“I’m all stressed out.” Been there, right, but what does it actually mean? Maybe it’s like pornography and we “know it when you see it”. Or, as it says on the popular bumper sticker “STRESS IS CREATED WHEN ONE’S MIND OVERRIDES THE BODY’S BASIC DESIRE TO CHOKE THE LIVING SH** OUT OF SOME JERK WHO DESPERATELY DESERVES IT.” OK, all profanity aside, what is stress, really?
One definition is that stress is the physical and emotional result of those large or small events that get a rise out of us. We all have stressful things in our lives – unsupportive bosses, money problems, illnesses – the list goes on. That’s life, eh? But remember, stress is also often found in things we think of as good; good things get a rise out of us, too. A birthday party, an exciting sporting event or a new apartment – these happy events stimulate the exact same chemical changes in the body that “bad” stress does. How we interpret the stress and how we cope with it are the important things. Sounds weird, but since stress is everywhere, we shouldn’t be trying to eliminate it, just manage it.
Stress is just a word. It is the name we assign to that awful feeling we get when a sale falls through or we get put in our place by our boss. We could just let the fear or rage or sadness wash over us and make us less able to cope, but that’s not really the best strategy, is it? Alternatively, we could recognize our stress response and say, “Hmm…I feel this way because of problem X. If I solve problem X by doing damage control Y, this feeling will go away.”
So the trick is, recognize the stress response when you feel it, identify the problem that is triggering the response, figure out a solution, and move on. If the solution is not obvious, get some help from friends, co-workers, or counselors. Sound simple? Maybe not, but recognizing that stress is just our body’s response to actual events (good AND bad) that have names and solutions is the critical first step to managing stress. We aren’t trying to eliminate stress, we are trying to solve problems. That accomplished, those physical symptoms that we call stress go away.
Now we’ve all heard of, and maybe tried, various stress management techniques – everything from exercise, to meditation or prayer, to using drugs or alcohol. While most of these only deal with the physiological responses to stress, and not with the problems causing the feelings, some (not all!) can play a very important role in helping us deal with stress. Obviously, brisk walks and meditation are much healthier and more effective than knocking back a bunch of beers every night, but none “fix” the problem of spending eight hours at a job we hate. The stress is still there. The problems causing the stress are still there. So stress management is very important; sometimes it’s the only thing that can get us through the day. But failure to identify and solve the problems causing the stress will cause any number of emotional and physical problems that ultimately will lead to disease, ill health, and yep, more stress. Check out this excellent book.
We will spend considerable time in future posts discussing stress and stress management. Let us know how much of an issue this is for you and we’ll get to it sooner than later!