November Gratitude Shorts, Day 20 (Late entry)
Man of Steel, Ironman, Thor, Avengers, Captain America, Mission Impossible, Jason Bourne, Hallelujah!
In the last several years my preferred movie genre has shifted from romantic comedies to superhero action flicks. I’m not exactly sure why, though I suspect it has something to do with letting go childish wishes of happily ever after and embracing a more, shall we say, assertive form of entertainment.
The story follows a similar arc, regardless of the movie. We meet the heroes, then follow along as some colossal menace emerges that only they can fight. In at least one scene they narrowly avert some mortal threat at the last millisecond. No matter how desperate and hopeless the situation, no matter how fast my heart races and I tremble and fret, in the end the heroes win and all is saved…until next time—tune in next summer!
I learned recently about three types of stress:
- Threat stress: This is what we generally mean when we say ‘stress.’ It’s the fight, flight, or freeze response, when we sense a threat to survival, or we appraise that we lack the resources to cope with our circumstances. It’s mediated by cortisol.
- Challenge stress: We face a challenge that we feel at least somewhat qualified to tackle but it will be hard, test our limits. If we’re lucky, it’s something we care deeply about and we rise to the occasion—I’m thinking this could lead to a state of flow. This stress results in increases in DHEA and testosterone.
- Tend and befriend stress: This is empathy. We see a friend in need and we respond with compassion and love. We feel connected through their struggle. Oxytocin rises here. [Addendum, 04/26/16: This is an incorrect interpretation of the tend and befriend response. Read my updated understanding here.]
This is intriguing to me, and I will study more about this construct in the very near future. I have experienced a fair amount of the latter two recently, and I’m positively exhausted. So here is what I have learned: Not all stress is bad. But even good stress costs energy, and we need to recover from it.
So maybe this is why superhero action films appeal to me? The heroes experience a call to adventure. They, and we, wonder if they are up to the challenge. They are tested, sometimes to their very limits. In the end they prevail. Maybe watching these movies vicariously feeds my challenge stress hunger, helps me believe that I, too, can rise to the occasion of my challenges in life? None of the heroes do it alone, they all have at least one loyal partner who believes in them and their cause—the partners tend and befriend them—they have connection. We all need help to get where we need to go. The true superheroes know this well.