Can Stress Be Good? Experts Say We Need It to Grow

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Antifragile" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Can stress be good? How can experiencing stress help us grow?

According to the book Antifragile, stress can be good. We benefit from stress because it helps us perfect our systems and find better ways to live and to cope. People will naturally rise to challenges and adapt.

So, can stress be good? Find out the answer below.

Why Stress Can Be Good

Modern life, in many ways, tries to remove the stress and randomness from life. We schedule our every move: when we work, when we eat, when we sleep, not to mention how we do all of those things. Even our entertainment is scripted and scheduled, like going to the bar after work and to movies on the weekends. 

This process could be called touristification: Tourism is like adventure with all of the risk and unpredictability removed, and modern society tries to make us tourists in our own lives. Someone who doesn’t take well to the touristification, who finds herself unhappy or unable to focus, will probably seek out medication to help herself fit in.

The side effect of this lack of struggle is a lack of personal growth, of artistic expression and in many cases, of valuable lessons. For example, one learns a language best by being immersed in it, by making mistake after mistake before learning how to communicate effectively. However, to avoid that embarrassment and struggle, we teach languages in classrooms using books and rules, and we get much worse results. 

As complex living things, humans benefit from—and secretly hunger for—some amount of risk and chance. Someone who can’t find the energy to go to a preplanned gym session could lift a car off of a trapped child, if need be. Someone who can’t stick to a diet will skip meals quite easily if there’s simply no food to be had. 

A chronic stress injury happens when someone repeats the exact same movement too many times in a row, like walking on a randomness-free treadmill. A great deal of modern life consists of chronic stress injuries, both literal and metaphorical—such as long-term dissatisfaction with one’s job.

In short, people will rise to naturally occurring challenges and grow stronger from them; conversely, they become weak and unfocused when the environment doesn’t provide such challenges. This is part of why stress can be good and why we need it to thrive.

Can Stress Be Good? Experts Say We Need It to Grow

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Antifragile" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Antifragile summary :

  • How to be helped by unforeseen events rather than harmed by them
  • Why you shouldn't get too comfortable or you'll miss out on the chance to become stronger
  • Why you should keep as many options available to you as possible

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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