Can Anxiety and Stress be Helpful

Anxiety or stress can be beneficial to people

Anxiety and stress has proven to be very beneficial to individuals in a variety of ways.  In the following examples I will show how an airline pilot used an elevated stress level to keep his skills and senses high enough to bring a plane load of people down safely into the Hudson River.  Another example of anxiety and stress helping an individual is the story of Nurse Jenny at St. Thomas University.  I will also introduce you to my Aunt Judy, an ordinary housewife who, while working at General Motors as a plant security guard, handled major stressors as incident commander of the Hazmat Spill Team for all chemical spills that occurred in the GM Plant where she worked. 

Another example of beneficial stress and anxiety is in the case of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Pilot of US Airways Airbus A320 bound for Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 15, 2009, that left LaGuardia Airport.  Just minutes after takeoff the plane struck a flock of birds that went into both engines and shut them down and the plane went down.  “The captain said, ‘Brace for impact because we’re going down,’” passenger Jeff Kolodjay said.  The plane hit the water with an intense impact, but all 155 passengers and staff survived.  The Coast Guard vessels and Ferries arrived to rescue the passengers who waded in water up to their knees, standing on the wing of the plane and waiting for help.  I am sure that the stress and anxiety of Captain Sully Sullenberger the time he knew that the plane was going down was high.  That only served to heighten his skills and his automatic reflexes kicked in  to do what came naturally to him.  Now he is considered a “Hero” for saving so many lives and doing what no other pilot can claim as yet.  Stress has clearly been beneficial to Captain Sullenberger and his passengers on January 15, 2009.

In the case of the learning environment, stressors are everywhere.  It is only a matter of how one individual deals with the stress that counts.  For example, Nurse Jenny, a Registered Nurse in the Oncology Unit of St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, found that the lessons learned in nursing school came with a price.  Some instructors were difficult to say the least, downright nasty at times, calling you on the carpet in front of your peers if you did not know your answers.  After all your future patients would be real people, with real illnesses and you could not afford to mess up.  Nurse Jenny recalled a time when she got put on the spot and was under pressure and stress to remember a procedure for her instructor.  When she could not recall the answer, the instructor “got on her”. Those were the lessons that she remembered the most.  The classess that she was the most stressed in are the lessons that she carries with her today as she cares for her patients on a daily basis.  The stress in her learning environment was certainly a good thing.

During the time when my Aunt Judy worked at General Motors as a Plant Security Guard, she was raising 2 small children and working full time.  One of her duties at the plant was incident commander of the Hazmat Spill Team.  Each time a chemical spill occurred at the plant, an alarm sounded and the team was called out.  Judy had to assume complete command of the situation roping off the area, staging the Hazmat truck, selecting teams to don Scott (air packs) and go into the area to neutralize the danger.  These dangers included flammables, toxic fumes, and explosive situations.  This was an ordinary housewife who in an extraordinary situation channeled her anxiety and stress, used all the adrenaline that came with it to perform these extraordinary tasks.  Her job called on her to do these things  necessary to keep people safe.  Even though she was scared to death, she still performed her job because she said “It was my job.” 

Anxiety and stress have often had a negative connotation in the world giving people the feeling of confusion, depression and fear; however, in many instances these emotions have a real use in an individual’s life.  I have shown in the three stories of real people using stress to their own advantage, stress can overcome fear, bring courage out of fear, and help people perform their job more efficiently.  These things make anxiety and stress work for individuals in a positive way.   We must all try to find a way in our own lives to use our anxiety and stress to work for us in a positive way and harness the energy within us all.