People differ in their ability to cope with stress. Some people take the challenge offered by stress as a stimulus to spur them to a greater level of performance and grow as a person to be able to master the situation. But others shrink from the challenge and withdraw from life. So they get stuck, unable to go any further and therefore tend to become bitter and depressed. When they see others succeeding and enjoying life they feel it was because they got the lucky breaks, when in fact everyone has challenges to deal with, but where some move through them, others get stuck.
People who write about stress, often troll out the line that some stress is good and some is bad and you need stress to motivate you. There’s a grain of truth in that statement, but they haven’t unravelled the whole story.
The truth is that stress sucks. It paralyses and deadens you. It closes you up to life and robs you of your sanity and peace of mind. That is never good.
However, a stressful situation can be seen as a challenge that gives you a context into which you can stretch yourself and develop your abilities is necessary to achieve the ‘flow state’. The flow state is where we have the peak expeiences, the most engrossing and engaging moments in our lives.
The difference is entirely determined by the interpretation that you give the situation.
So a stressful event can either be the cause for great joy and personal growth or for misery and a depressive spiral. Whatever happens after the event depends entirely on the way that you choose to respond.
Marty Seligman, a noted Psychologist, noted three particular traits that seem to apply to depressed people. When bad things happen to pessimists, they tend to explain the events as being permanent, pervasive and personal.
In other words when something bad happens as it inevitably will from time to time. They say, ‘nothing ever goes right for me.’ So it’s not just one thing, but everything. It’s not an occasional problem, but always. And it feels as if it’s always to them, rather than something that happens to everyone at times.
Now, if you are to interpret life as if it’s out to victimise you at every turn, again and again. Obviously, you’re going to respond as depressed people do, ‘what’s the point in fighting’ ‘I can’t do this’. And so you succumb to the pressure, shrink into yourself and feel worse and worse.
Those who respond well to stress in contrast look on a situation as one of a number of challenges in life, that they are determined to meet head on, understand, adapt to and overcome.
- So what determines whether you will cope well or poorly to a stressful event?
- How confident you feel about tackling the event.
- Your emotional state, which determines how you interpret the situation and how ready you feel in dealing with the challenge.
- How interested you are in meeting the challenge.
So now let’s look at what happens when someone is stressed and consider the possible routes they could take.
Maybe they will try to forget about it and numb the pain they feel with Drink or drugs. What’s then going to happen is that they will anaesthetise the tension or pain they feel and so relax for a while, but the problem is still there and it’s going to have to be dealt with. But by poisoning your system, you have depleted your energy, your clarity of mind and so reduced the resources you have access to that can help you deal with this issue, which ultimately you will have to deal with.
A less toxic version of this would be to react by distracting themselves with work, smoking, playing video games, checking email, having sex, by comfort eating or through retail therapy.
There are really two problems people face when they are stressed.
The issue and the way that they feel about the issue. Your first job is to put yourself in the right frame of mind to deal with the issue. Then you deal with the issue.
Recently, my daughter had a lot of homework to do. She had left it until late Sunday evening and we were pushing her to do it.
‘Why do I have to do so much work? It’s not fair. Why do I have to do this stupid work? It’s too hard for me. I’m too tired to do this…’ she whined.
So I put one hand high and one low and said the top one is happy, the low one is sad. Where on the range was she feeling right now? She pointed to sad. So I explained that homework is easy when you feel happy and really hard to do when you’re sad and so the first job you have to do is get into a happy state of mind.
We talked for couple of minutes and broke out of the negative spiral and she was in and then I asked again where she was on the range of happy/sad. She pointed to the happy hand. So I said, now we can do the homework. We did the first question and I made sure that we looked at it in a humorous way and suddenly the same homework that seemed so depressing and overwhelming five minutes earlier was the most fun thing she could do. She got through much of the rest of it without any more complaints or drama before almost falling asleep working on it.
The real problem in dealing with stress is never the problem, but being in the right frame of mind to tackle the problem is.
When you are really overwhelmed, really gripped with fear, the instinctual response is to constrict. To tense your muscle, grind your teeth and reduce your attention to the thing that is frightening you. And so you reach, what I call, a low bandwidth state. A state where you don’t have access to sufficient clarity of mind or mental space to gain any inspiration or creativity. To try to solve a problem in this frame of mind is like trying to fight with your best arm tied behind your back.
photo credit: LowRez.de
So you do need to tackle the first problem, which is moving into a higher bandwidth state, where you can access the resources that will enable you to resolve the main problem.
The natural reaction to change the way that you feel, is healthy and useful. The problem is that in using something like comfort eating or shopping to change the way you are feeling, you are just creating a future problem in exchange for temporary relief.
You see, when something works to make you ease emotional pain, it creates a powerful association in the brain. That’s why however old people get, when it hits the fan, they still want to run to their Mum. Because Mum made everything feel better when they were young and they still have the neurological connections that recall that.
So using food or nicotine or other people or money to provide that comfort can develop into a habit. And later that can seem to be the only solution and so it becomes an addiction. Then you get the side effect of getting fat, damaging your health, putting you into debt or whatever the case is.
Some people use a more healthy way of reaching a high bandwidth state. Maybe they take a long soak in a hot bath, have a massage, watch tv, go for a walk, exercise, see a Therapist or so on. This doesn’t have the toxic side effects of the other actions, but you do have to be aware that you are doing something for the sole purpose of changing your emotional state. In awareness it’s clear that you’re working towards reducing your stress. Without that clarity, it just seems like you’re fiddling while Rome burns.
Advanced Stress Management Guide Contents
What Is Stress?
What Are The Costs of Stress?
What Are The Effects of Stress?
What Are The Causes of Stress?
How Do People Generally Cope With Stress?
The Mindset Shift: It’s Ok To Be Stressed, But Get Over It Quickly
The Secret To Emotional Stress Management
Reduce Stress And Avoid The Stress Tax
How To Deal With Stress
The Way To Relieve Stress
The Law Of Fairness
Pyrrhic Victory And The Value Of Losing