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March 26, 2013

Is Adversity Good for our Health?

What happens to normal adaptive mechanisms when they outlast the problems they evolved to avoid? Deprived of an appropriate outlet, they can go into overdrive, becoming destructive instead of helpful:

From primitive times, the survival instinct has enabled mankind to handle major threats to existence. In the modern world, we have become such creatures of comfort that even the slightest annoyance—such as facing a long line at airport security—sends our self-preservation programming into overdrive, resulting in dangerous levels of stress.

That's the theory put forth by Marc Schoen, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles Geffen School of Medicine, in "Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You."

A specialist in mind-body medicine and hypnosis, he says modern societies suffer from the "Cozy Paradox"—where, despite all our many comforts, we have become increasingly oversensitive to even subtle adversity and general uneasiness. And our subsequent inability to cope feeds a wide range of maladies, including poor work performance, overeating, insomnia, relationship troubles, road rage, fear of flying, sex addiction and panic attacks over public speaking.

Dr. Schoen blames the culture of instant gratification that started with the introduction of the microwave, fast food and the Internet. Another culprit: a societal shift toward praising kids whether or not they succeed, which has led them, as adults, to put in less effort and expect more in return.

Is this the same mechanism that's behind the rise in allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune disorders (including mental health issues)?

This is a big part of what disturbs me so much about progressive utopian schemes and dogma. The goal seems to be a world where powerful but benign authority figures protect us from adversity, discomfort, even the consequences of overeating or refusal to exercise. But what if humans were designed by nature to handle attacks and adversity? What if we actually require these things to thrive?

When I was raising my sons, I was repeatedly struck by a repetitive theme in classic literature: that in order to grow into strong, adaptable, compassionate, and healthy adults, children needed to experience (and learn to master) fear, discomfort, occasional privation, and setbacks. This powerful idea changed the way I responded to several parenting scenarios.

I've never understood how parents expect children to go from a cocoon-like existence at home where every need and wish is granted instantly and (at least from the child's perspective) effortlessly to the world of work and school and hopefully, independence. We might want to focus less on worrying about the horror that is feminism (or, if your Weltanschauung varies, the depredations of racist/sexist/homophobic Republicans) and more on not raising children who have very little (or even no) practice in overcoming challenges and adversity.

Posted by Cassandra at March 26, 2013 07:53 AM

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In an effort to protect children from harm, society has removed their ability to deal with it. My favorite example of this insanity is the phenomenon of "helicopter parents":


You know you're no longer in reality when your mommy and daddy show up to your job interview to negotiate your salary.

Posted by: MikeD at March 26, 2013 10:25 AM

One of the things feminism means to me is not insulating pink little darlings from all kinds of rough and unpleasant experiences, like peas under the mattress.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 26, 2013 10:36 AM

Mike, years ago when I was just starting college again, one of my profs told me that she began taking attendance (which she HATED) in self defense after she failed several kids who never showed up to class and consequently failed their tests or didn't hand in major assignments and their parents threatened to sue because she couldn't prove their little darling didn't even bother to go to class.

We bag on schools a lot for making a lot of pointless rules, but quite often those rules are there for a reason. We just don't know the reason.

Loved the article. I limited our boys to one sport or extracurricular activity at a time because they needed time to play, read, or just be kids. It hurt them a bit when college application time came around because they were competing with kids whose every free moment was filled with classes and activities, but they managed to get accepted to decent schools somehow.

I was mildly shocked to talk to other parents who had hired application and resume coaches to manage the college application process.


I always figured that's a learning process too. If you don't care enough to do a decent job on your application or do the research to make sure you're not applying to schools that will never accept you, you're probably not ready for college yet, let alone the real world.


Posted by: Cassandra at March 26, 2013 01:40 PM

and their parents threatened to sue because she couldn't prove their little darling didn't even bother to go to class.

"OK, Mom, Dad, you're right. Your kid did show up to class. They still failed to turn in assignments and pass the test. Instead of being lazy, they are stupid. Is that better?"

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 26, 2013 02:55 PM

My prof was really steamed about having to take attendance. She thought it was insulting to do that to college students.

I'm guessing this kid's parents would not agree. This was all so preventable.

If she had only sent him reminder notes before his assignments came due, this tragedy could have been avoided.

Posted by: Cass at March 26, 2013 05:08 PM

I think the good doctor is on to something here.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at March 26, 2013 06:57 PM

Speaking of adversity, got a little family adversity going on at the moment and can use some friendly advice from the lawerly set.

My sister's husband has been having medical problems over the last several years. Each issue had been diagnosed and treated with varying levels of success. During this time he changed jobs. There were no medical issues at the time he changed jobs (and hence insurers). After changing jobs he lost color vision for a while. The eye doctor made a diagnosis, but also stated that this issue is highly correlated to Multiple Sclerosis.

Turns out the eye doctor was right. He's got a very aggressive case and is deteriorating exponentially.

On top of this, because MS typically exists for year prior to diagnosis (because the symptoms are more frequently associated to other diseases: "when you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras") and my BIL had been going to the doctor for issues that, in hindsight, can be attributable to MS, the long term disability insurance is denying their claim due to pre-existing conditions.

1) Prayers would be appreciated (even from the non-lawyerly set).

2) Do they have a leg to stand on if they appeal? Or is the insurance company correct even though there had been no diagnosis and the symptoms only apparent in hindsight?

3) If an appeal is possible, how should they go about structuring this appeal? Should they get a lawyer involved at this point?

4) If an appeal is possible and denied, do they have a leg to stand on in court? How should they go about finding/selecting a lawyer to represent them?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 27, 2013 09:45 AM

...exists for years...

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 27, 2013 09:47 AM