You might be wondering, “Why should I be worried about stress? Why can’t I just go about my life doing what I want and getting as stressed out as I get? What’s the big deal?”
Well, the big deal is what stress does to you in your body, mind, and energy.
But, before we talk about all this, I want to get clear on a few concepts. First, I would like to differentiate between “stress” and a “stressor”.
- A stressor is anything, actual or perceived, inside your skin or outside it, which puts a load or strain on your body and/or mind. It often causes your body to trigger its automatic stress response, commonly known as the fight, flight, or freeze reflex.
- Stress is commonly defined as what you experience when the demands of your circumstances surpass your ability to compensate so that physiological and psychological changes occur that put you at risk of developing disease.
As you can see from these distinctions, stressors are not necessarily bad. Some might be fun and exciting, like bungie jumping; some might be motivating, like your boss lighting a fire under your rear-end. So, when you hear people talking about “good stress”, they are really talking about stressors that can have useful or helpful consequences. Stress, unless you like getting sick, is never good.
Now days, the majority of people describe themselves as stressed (over 53% surveyed) and physicians estimate that 75% of visits to all doctors and 90% of visits to primary care doctors, are for stress-related problems. And the numbers of stressed people go up every year. So, while stress is more than an epidemic, and we’re being crushed by our country’s healthcare costs, instead of confronting the problems head-on, we are trying to sweep them under the carpet.
Many workplaces are trying to develop a corporate culture that makes you feel like a wimp if you get stressed out or that you aren’t doing enough unless you are stressed out. And nobody wants to talk about stress anymore, they are using the euphemism of “work-life balance.” It reminds me of when the small nice community where my wife grew up gave itself a new name. It did this to avoid being associated with the gang violence of the adjacent rough neighborhood with whom they previously shared a name. It did nothing to change the gang violence but it made them feel that it was no longer their problem. Calling stress “work-life balance” doesn’t change the reality of how stress makes you sick.
Besides, work isn’t the only stressor in your life. What if you’re raising a high-needs child? Or your teen is climbing out their bedroom window and staying out all night? Or you are now caring for your aging parents who are exhibiting their stress-related illnesses caused by you climbing out of your bedroom window? Work-life balance is always a good idea: you need to balance work with family and personal time, but, as a concept, it is not robust enough to deal with the stress epidemic and keep you healthy.
There are better ways to deal with stress than blaming, shaming, and guilting you, or ignoring what you are going through. Let me outline one.
You have the stress response to help you survive short-term physically demanding situations, such as encountering a bear. You are not designed to spend your whole day, let alone weeks, months, or years, in the stress response. (See the blog post “What Stress Does to You”.) Once the stress response is triggered, your body starts to respond in milliseconds, way too quickly to talk yourself out of it, and the effects linger for hours. Therefore, you only need two to three stressors per day to essentially spend the whole day in the stress response physiology. Modern life stressors rarely need you to run or fight as the answer. The stress response is triggered any time you perceive yourself to be either threatened or spread too thin. How you perceive your experiences is determined by your world view. Your world view is composed of the sum total of your beliefs. With practice, you get to choose what you believe, therefore, you get to choose your world view…the emphasis is on “with practice”. So, the question to ask yourself is, “Could it be possible to work my beliefs around in such a way that the vast majority of what I have to deal with in a day does not trigger my fight or flight reflex?”
We know the answer is “YES!” and we here at The 7 Tools are dedicated to helping you learn how to stay healthy in the face of your life’s potential stressors. (I call them “potential” stressors because, once you learn and practice the Seven Tools of Healing, you will have a completely different response to the things that are stressing you out right now.)