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ΑρχικήEnglish EditionIs Stress Necessary for Success?

Is Stress Necessary for Success?

By Charalampos Karouzos,

In the pursuit of success, regardless of its origin, arising from societal peer pressure or from the inside as a personal goal, one often encounters the notion that stress is an inevitable companion on the journey. Whether in academic endeavors, professional aspirations, the pursuit of pleasure, or personal goals, the prevailing belief, considered a “law of nature” by John Ruskin, suggests that “a certain quantity of work is necessary to produce a certain quantity of good, of any kind whatever”, making stress not only a natural byproduct but also a necessary catalyst for achievement. However, amidst this common narrative lies a pivotal question: is stress truly indispensable for success? If, as Ruskin wrote, we strive to evade this law, and not toil for our goals, is it possible to achieve any good? Moreover, how can individuals navigate the delicate balance between productivity and mental well-being to sustain long-term success?

Throughout the annals of time, it remains undeniable that any endeavor, irrespective of its nature, demands a certain degree of effort and commitment; the necessary energy needed to overcome the inertia of the world. From launching a business venture to pursuing academic excellence, the path to success is often paved with challenges that necessitate perseverance and resilience. In many cases, stress and anxiety emerge as the driving forces, propelling individuals to push beyond their comfort zones and strive for greater accomplishments. Indeed, pressure can fuel motivation, sharpen focus, and spur innovation, however, the assumption that stress is an inherent prerequisite for success warrants closer examination.

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Research in psychology and neuroscience, although far from conclusive, has provided valuable insights into the complex interplay between stress and performance. While acute stressors can trigger heightened alertness and cognitive function in the short term, chronic stress poses significant risks to both physical and mental well-being. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol, can impair decision-making, undermine immune function, and increase susceptibility to anxiety and depression. It may sound trivial, but it wasn’t until recently that the effect of these hormones and the alteration of neuronal networks at the level of the Central Nervous System (CNS) was understood. Moreover, the detrimental effects of chronic stress extend beyond individual health, impacting interpersonal relationships, organizational dynamics, and societal well-being.

In light of these considerations, it becomes evident that the relationship between stress and success is nuanced and multifaceted, and although short-term stressors may yield temporary gains in performance, the long-term consequences of chronic stress can erode one’s capacity for sustained achievement. The notion that stress is a prerequisite for success warrants reconsideration, and from a macroscopical viewpoint, our business and achievements in the contemporary world are no different, contrary to the common belief that simply highlights the necessity to cultivate a balanced approach that acknowledges the importance of effort and perseverance while prioritizing self-care and mental resilience. One can argue that such an approach is the sole available solution to safeguard humanity’s place in the turbulent flow of existence.

So, how can individuals strike the elusive balance between productivity and well-being? The key lies in adopting holistic strategies that promote both professional success and personal fulfillment and setting limits to one’s goals if they diverge from one’s wellbeing.

Mindful self-awareness appears as a paramount value while navigating the complexities of stress and success. Despite the apparent triviality of the idea, and the popularization by mass media of the idea-trend of “self-care”, one may reject its importance without fully understanding its profound implications. Reflecting on thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations is a rather tedious task, which can be cultivated by practices such as meditation, journaling, or mindfulness exercises. If only observing your reactions to stressors, you can develop greater insight into your triggers and coping mechanisms.

An additional point, often neglected, is the role of physical well-being, as it forms the foundation for mental resilience, enabling us to better cope with stress and sustain high levels of performance. Embracing healthy lifestyle choices, prioritizing nutritious food and engaging in regular exercise, while ensuring adequate rest, are all essential components towards holistic success.

Effective time management, in our crowded with information and tasks word, emerges as indispensable in striking a balance between productivity and well-being. Often the most ambitious, the ones that strive for perfection, fail to acknowledge the importance of setting realistic achievable goals, thus, like high-wire walkers without a safety net, they may find themselves teetering on the brink of failure, unable to regain their balance when faced with the daunting reality of their aspirations. Prioritizing tasks by identifying objectives and allocating the otherwise limited time and energy accordingly is the sole sustainable and humane strategy to prevent overwhelm and maintain focus. Establishing clear boundaries helps in safeguarding personal time and preventing burnout, a devastating phenomenon among developed countries. Further, embracing the power of refusal to excessive commitments and delegating tasks, when necessary, are also crucial aspects of optimizing time and resources, leading to enhanced productivity and improved mental well-being.

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Acknowledging our intrinsic social nature, as humans, is the initial step toward cultivating resilience and adeptly managing stress within a social framework. Establishing meaningful connections with people that can offer encouragement, empathy, and diverse viewpoints proves invaluable. The act of sharing both triumphs and challenges along one’s journey taps into the collective strength of community, facilitating achieving personal success while preserving mental health. Yet, some choose to follow a solitary path in the pursuit of personal perfection, a route where the echoes of ambitions reverberate in isolation, while limitless potential is to be found in the richness of human connection and collective growth.

Undoubtedly, striving for success corresponds to acknowledging failure as an inherent component of growth. Reframing setbacks and failures from impassable roadblocks to opportunities for personal growth and learning, honors resilience, perseverance, and adaptability. Through this lens, one can effectively harness the transformative potential of challenges to propel their journey towards growth and success, while limiting the otherwise unavoidable burden of failure.

To conclude, while stress is an important catalyst in many personal and collective achievements, enhancing effort and productivity, sustainability and longevity are contingent upon effective prioritization and the wellbeing of individuals. Success transcends mere endurance of strain and sacrifice; it harmonizes ambition with well-being. By prioritizing mental health, fostering resilience, and nurturing holistic growth, individuals can cultivate a path to success that honors both their professional aspirations and personal fulfillment. Navigating the complexities of our ever-evolving world, it remains paramount to remember that true success encompasses, not only what we achieve, but also the manner in which we thrive amidst the pursuit of our goals.

  • John Ruskin. “On Art and Life“. Penguin Great Ideas. London. 1853.



Charalampos Karouzos
Charalampos Karouzos
He was born in Greece, currently living in Italy. He studies Medicine and Surgery at “La Sapienza” University of Rome. He is passionate about untangling the medical world and participating in world health issues. He also loves modern arts, books, travelling and sports. He speaks Greek, English, French and Italian. In his free time, he likes meeting new and interesting people and exploring.