As you’ll gather from reading the editorial (below) from the Journal of the American Medical Association, stress is not peculiar to our time.
Stress is the distance between what you want and what you're getting. If you know what you want and you're on the way to getting 'it' you feel 'pretty good'. When you get 'it' you feel 'absolutely fantastic'.
The further you get from what you want the worse you feel.
If you run into a brick wall your level of stress will go up.
If you've hit the brick wall there is a high probability you’ll be able to work out how to get around it, under it, over it or crash through it. If you need help, ask for it.
If you don't know what you want you're setting yourself up for a stressful like.
The optimistic note
You’ve been stressed before and you got over it.
EUSTRESS AND DISTRESS
There are two forms of stress, eustress, the good stress and distress, the bad stress.
Eustress is the stress we put ourselves under when working toward a goal. Athletes train harder, students study harder, gardeners dig harder …, putting up with and even enjoying some of the discomfort that comes with propelling themselves forward into the future. As Thomas Carlyle said, ‘No pressure, no diamonds.’
On the other hand distress is the discomfort that comes without reward, just regret.
WHICH STRESS - distress
Most people when they’re talking about stress are talking about distress. In the stress series of ebooks, the word ‘stress’ is used to mean ‘distress’.
One of the models used to define stress is based on Hooke's Law. According to Hooke’s Law, elasticity is, ‘ … the property of a material that allows it to resume its original size and shape after having been compressed or stretched by an external force – that is, unless it’s stretched beyond its elastic limit.’
Stress is the mental condition where you feel stretched close to your elastic limit. You’ll hear people say, ‘I’ve reached my breaking point.’ Go past the breaking point and they’ll say, ‘I’ve snapped.’
Most of the time the stress is minimal. In fact, life is a series of oscillations, but once we are stretched beyond our own personal elastic limit, the stress can become intense to the point where it is unbearable.
Normally, physical objects become permanently deformed when they exceed their elastic limit. This is not so with humans, except on the rarest of occasions. It’s often the case that after a bout of stress, people find themselves stretched for the better. They learn from the experience. They change, assume a new ‘shape’.
Think - and do something
The distress you’re experiencing is telling you to think, to do something to change your circumstances, to move yourself away from what you don’t want and forward for what you do want.
When a person’s reach is within their grasp they feel good. On the other hand if the distance between what they’ve got and what they want is increasing, they become distressed – which makes the distressed state sound like a form of tantrum.
This definition of stress applies equally to both the big things of life (health, family, career, finances …) and to the small things.
If there is one underlying theme in this book it’s that we are the products of our thinking. Stress is the symptom of psychic pleasure or pain.
Psychic pleasure calls for celebration. Psychic pain, like physical pain, is the messenger telling us to do something, not just to mask the pain but treat its cause and get rid of it altogether. It’s one of the great motivators for change in the human condition. Search for the cause.
The stress model (below) stresses three key elements that contribute to stress
- the external environment
- our metabolic function and
- our thinking.
Change your thinking
Descarte provided a clue to over-coming stress with his famous quote, ‘I think therefore I am’. By extending the concept one comes up with
• ‘my thinking is responsible for the current status of my life.’
• ‘by thinking I can change my circumstances.’
If it’s thinking that drives what ‘I am’, then it’s a lack of thinking that drives what ‘I am not’. In that context,
‘Stress’ (‘distress’) is the word used to describe the condition of being in a state of ‘I am not’.
- ‘I am not happy’.
- ‘I am not content’.
- ‘I am not getting what I want.’
Of course this idea had been around since antiquity in the form of the saying, ‘As a man thinks, so in his heart is he.’ (Proverbs 23:7) Or as Epticus said in 50AD, ‘People are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them.’
If you’re stressed, start thinking.
THE SYMPTOMS OF STRESS
Stress manifests itself in a myriad of ways. For instance you react to stress by generating any number of associated body system dysfunctions.
This is represented in the diagram below where the health of one body system will affect the health of other body systems.
The effect the mind has on other body systems is well documented. It’s known as the psycho-somatic connection.
What’s less well known is that the health of any body system can impact on the health of another body system.
Poor general health that affects the mind is known as the somato-psychic effect. For instance, if you have lower back pain it’s hard to walk around saying, ‘I feel absolutely fantastic.’ Same with an ear ache, a tummy ache or a lack of sleep. The back pain affects your mood. If there is something wrong with your liver or your gut your mind may be the first to know about it.
The medical industry is, generally speaking, not well acquainted with the effect other body systems have on the mind, particularly in the management of depression.
It pays to keep the whole somatic eco-system in exceptionally good shape.
Stress manifests itself in a range of body system dysfunctions, treatment for which leads many people to the surgery door.
But the great tragedy of stress management is that the most common form of treatment for the symptoms of stress is not the treating of its cause, but the masking of its symptoms with a drug. Stress and/or depression are not caused by a lack of phenoxyphenylpropanamine. Neither are the symptoms of stress, high blood pressure and poor sleep, caused by a lack of angiotensin II receptor antagonist or zolpidem tartrate.
Taking the drug lulls people into the false sense of security that they’re OK, the problem has been solved. But symptom masked is definitely not problem solved. You want a lasting fix not a junk medicine fix.
Because thinking is the driver of the normal, healthy condition of the human being, a doctor may not be either the best or only person to see when you’re stressed.
You need to go to someone who will help you to readjust your thinking - a counsellor, coach or philosopher, who’ll get you started on doing the things that healthy people do to keep themselves healthy and stress free.
You need to sit down, take stock, think, write and then act.
SOW AND REAP
The news you probably don’t want to hear is that if you feel stressed now, there’s a good chance that the principal cause lies in something you’ve done, or haven’t done at sometime in the past.
The good news is that if the cause lies within your own control, the solution probably does too.
In ‘How to Manage Stress’ series of ebooks you’ll find answers to the questions:
1. Stress - what is it?
2. Where does it come from?
3. Stress - what does it do to you?
4. Stress – how you can get ahead of it?
Of course you’re not going to get all the answers, just enough to get you focused on doing whatever you think you need to do to get you back to living the good life.
So here’s what it’s all about
There’s a lot more to deal with in life than sitting on the couch changing channels or staring at your mobile phone. Life is complicated and there’s a lot things to keep your eye on – all at the same time.
In the How to Manage Stress ebook we’re going to focus on some of the key areas of life as represented on the Great Wheel of Life below. Once they’re all ticking over nicely you’ll be living the life you want to live.
In a nutshell, your stress won’t go away until you do something. It’s no good getting a pill to mask the symptom. You have to do something. You’ve got to work out what you want, and then galvanize yourself into action.
If faith without works is dead, then so is thought without action.
It’s not good just thinking, start moving.
Think for a minute about the word ‘motivation’: it’s derived from motive and action.
When it comes to action, keep in mind the paradox, ‘You don’t motivate yourself to do something, you do something and then become motivated.’ There’s many a runner who’s said, ‘The hardest thing I ever had to do was get my shorts and shoes on and get out the front door; after that it was one leg at a time.’
Managing your stress is not something you can outsource. It’s not something that will get better by putting your head under the covers or a pill down your throat.
A final word
Start to do the things that keep you in the peak performance zone.
In the meantime stay tuned, highly tuned; work out what you want and go for it.
Click here to purchase the 'How to Manage Stress series of ebooks.