Just What Is Stress Anyway?
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Stress is the definitely the pop disease of the 21st century. Just a few years ago, the condition was simply known as “stress.” Today it has many common subcategories such as road rage, telephone rage, image stress, technostress, mid-life crisis, early mid-life crisis: the list goes on.
However, stress is really the same condition that has always plagued humans throughout time. There just seems to be an epidemic happening at present. Why is this?
To answer this question, we must look at what stress actually is. Those common feelings of stress that most of us are familiar with: churning stomach, tension headaches, tight muscles, hyperventilation, feelings of impending doom, intrusive negative thoughts, all make up the condition that we know as stress.
However, these symptoms are not directly caused by events that occur to you. They are caused by the way you interpret these events. Let’s look at a very simple example. A racing car driver who is used to driving at high speeds does not find doing so a stressful event. However, the rest of us who are bound by the speed limits imposed on us in our streets and suburbs may find ourselves frightened if we were suddenly strapped into a racing car and taken for a quick trip around the track. The event is exactly the same in both cases. The difference between our hypothetical racing driver and our rookie passenger is in the way they experience the event. The racing driver gets a buzz out of driving at high speed; our scared passenger is frightened for their life.
Interestingly, the feelings that both persons are experienced are caused by the same chemicals; again it is the interpretation of the event that determines the level of stress experienced. The racing driver is thrilled and actually enjoys the sensation. Our frightened passenger is gripping the seat’s edge for dear life.
Changing your stress levels in everyday life can be as simple as changing your attitude. Of course, “simple” isn’t necessarily “easy.” However if you adjust your thinking about events that normally stress you, there can be a significant lowering of stress levels in your life.
The reason we become “stressed” is tied up with our thought patterns. You cannot stop certain things happening to you, but you can train yourself not to become overwhelmed by them. In fact, you can train yourself to put a positive spin on many problems that you encounter, and you can learn ways to break seemingly insurmountable problems down into smaller, manageable, and thus solvable problems.
Refocusing your thoughts is a valuable tool, as the thoughts you allow to dominate your brainspace will determine the level of stress you experience.
Stress really isn’t the overwhelming, all-encompassing dragon that our society has let it become. Stress is highly contagious, so it is important to minimize contact with those who live a purposefully stressful life. Choice is an important factor also in lowering stress levels, and constantly reminding ourselves that you do have the power of choice in your life, particularly in the way we think, brings us one step closer to a calmer way of life.