We keep talking about the negative effects of stress, and in fact, it’s become such a common complaint, we use it constantly. We say things like “I’m stressed out about my work/school”, or “Don’t stress!”. But that really isn’t possible, and it’s not even advisable in every case. Sometimes we need to stress out about things going on in our lives, because that’s the only way any of us ever makes a change. If we get too comfortable with the status quo, we don’t move, we don’t change, we don’t invent, we don’t dream, we don’t strive to do or be better than we are today.
Humans need challenge. Our brains are hardwired to seek and explore, but we’re also lazy. We need a reason to push ourselves and our limits. It’s only when things don’t work and we become stressed with a current situation that we scratch our heads and try to think of new ways to do things. When we’re stressed because we’ve come up against an obstacle, it’s our brain’s way of telling us to move, to do something about it.
Of course people don’t really like significant, really difficult life changes that come with high stress, like death, birth, moving, divorce, new job, new routines, and so on. On a good note though, these are the building blocks for growth, renewal, and awareness. We learn to cope with changes, and although we may actively seek some things we know are going to be stressful, like marriage, birth, moving, a new job, etc., we also fear the stress they’re going to cause. That kind of stress is good for us, so long as it doesn’t go to the extreme. Coping with stress and new situations is a good thing, because life isn’t and shouldn’t be static. Some believe deeply that even death isn’t static, since we (our spirit) go on in some manner. Life is about transition, which is a good thing. In the article, Coping With Change, on Mind Tools, it discusses the importance of coping and how to cope with change.
No, stress itself isn’t the problem, the problems arise when we stress too much over things we have no control over, or when our coping mechanisms fail us, or when we haven’t learned to cope well with change. There are techniques that can help us learn coping skills. In fact, many large organizations see the value in learned coping skills and now teach their employees how to use them effectively in the workplace.
Like everything in life, stress is only bad when the pendulum swings too far in one direction. The good news is, we can control our reaction to new situations, even when we have no control over the situation itself. Exerting that control to our reactions is one way people can reduce stress. As a writer, I experience many areas of stress, and could let it ruin my love of my craft. After all, writers receive actual rejection letters that stab at the very heart of our most precious work, and our hearts. I stress about making a living from my writing, I stress about whether or not my writing is good enough, whether or not I’m good enough, I stress about how to get the scenes and words to build strong characters and plots that readers will care about, I stress about finding a balance between my work and my life, I stress about disappointing my family, and so the list goes on. But I’ve learned to accept that stress is part and parcel of what I do and the life I’ve chosen. I try to put things into perspective via meditation, taking time away to enjoy my family and friends, and learning as much as I can about this business and craft of writing. Most though, I just cope, day in and day out. And when I need to, I allow myself to cry and experience the disappointments. Crying relieves stress. It allows me to let go and also express my deep feelings, and when I’m finished crying, I pick myself up and try again, or think of new ways to accomplish the outcomes I need.
Stress is also life-saving, since it signals the fight or flight response. That little voice in our heads that says “something’s not right” induces immediate stress. Our bodies tense, the hairs stand up on our arms or neck, and we become hyper aware of the people/things around us that might be triggering the stress. This primordial stress signal is present in every living thing. It’s what makes the deer lift it’s head and suddenly flee rapidly away from a perceived threat. It’s why some dogs become extremely agitated just before a major storm. They become stressed, they pace and whine. They try to alert their humans that “something evil this way comes”.
Stress is also catchy. If you stand near someone who is very stressed and agitated, it doesn’t take long before you become equally agitated, even if you don’t share their reason. It’s a collective response that’s designed to protect us from danger, and it’s something that isn’t planned. It just happens. The moment you remove yourself from the vicinity of the stressing person(s), you begin to relax. Unless of course there really is a train barrelling down the tracks toward you. Then, you still stress, and if you have a functioning brain in your head you MOVE!
So the next time you feel stressed out, take a few moments to ask yourself why. Take a close look at the cause, or trigger, then try to establish a plan for how to deal with it. Everything from the very simple, i.e. I’m stressed about finding a parking spot, to I need a new job, which means I’ll need to move to a new city and leave all my family and friends behin, and my spouse/children won’t want to go, requires some form of action. The beauty is, you get to choose the action, the response, to the stress. What an empowering thought. You choose!