July 27th, 2013| Topic: RaMbLeS | 0


Chronic stress, we know, creates lots of trouble: cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, nerve degeneration, etc. But how about acute (short-term) stress?

Apparently acute stress is good for you. Well, at least a little bit!

All that lounging in a hot tub or in a pool or in the Mediterranean is not the best way to spend your time it seems.

Nope, that’s not what the rats teach us. Yes, rats!

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have found that a little stress is actually good for life: acute stress boosts cognitive function.

Well, these researchers confined the rats to their cages for several hours, increasing their stress-hormone (corticosterone) levels. Two days later, rat memories were tested: nothing different. But two weeks later, when the newborn nerve cells became functional, memories had significantly improved. The stress had caused new cell growth in the area of the brain dealing with memory—the hippocampus—stimulated by astrocytic fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2). Thus, “these findings suggest a beneficial role for acute stress on hippocampal plasticity,” the authors conclude.

In other words, little stress is good for you. Key word here is, of course, “little.” Figuring out how much is “little” and how much is “too much” is essential to this whole boosting of cognition. And of course, whether studies performed on rodents are transferable to humans is also questionable. Nevertheless ….

Getting those stress hormones to flow seems to be good for us, at least on a short-term basis.

While that is not the only reason for stress in life, perhaps there is something to those tests and trials and tribulations God puts us through. It’s for our own good.

“Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you,
and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you,
so that you may not sin.”
Exodus 20:20

The stress of divine testing has some positive benefits.

Not only does it expose our weaknesses (a divine “stress-test”), it also keeps us dependent upon God and his grace—a key aspect of Christian humility: “that the fear of Him may remain with you”—the awed reverence of the child of God for God our Father.

Will our fear of God manifest in obedience?

“… that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.”
Exodus 16:4

Besides, these tests may also strengthen our faith as we successfully go through them.

“You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you
in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you,
testing you, to know what was in your heart,
whether you would keep His commandments or not.
… to do good for you in the end.”
Deuteronomy 8:2, 16

Ultimately, God’s tests are for the benefit of his children. No wonder the psalmist actually asked for this sort of stress!

Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart.
Psalm 26:2

But he knew the outcome. Among other things, these forms of stress, as the venerable Berkeley researchers described recently, work on the hippocampus, helping us remember better.

Indeed, it is by remembering the greatness of our God, the magnificence of his grace, and the plenitude of his love for us in Jesus Christ, that we are better equipped to live for him. So the psalmist could say, after he had asked to be tested:

I will proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving
And declare all Your wonders.
Psalm 26:7

Be tested. Be remembering. And give that hippocampus a workout.




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