Sound the alarm and fire the canons!
No one likes stress or having to cope with something, which, in the furnace of the moment, seems too much to overcome. When dealing with stress or personal crisis, we all behave differently. Some of us complain or vent. Others compartmentalize stress, tucking it away somewhere into the catacombs of the self. The most successful of us are somehow able to shake things off and move forward. How does the third group do this? How do they turn an ordeal into something manageable?
Before we dive into stress management, let's examine what stress is.
Stress starts with an event—a stimulus that is either controlled or beyond one's control. This causality can be traced back to the ancient Greek inquiries of logic. That is, X causes Y. Causation is the root of logical or illogical perception and reaction, a centripetal force trying to make sense of the natural human order of why things are the way they are. Causation can be a stimulus or the first mover toward identifying stimuli as worthy of personal crisis.
Crisis v. Incident
Here's where we really begin to diverge. One person's crisis is another person's speed bump. Why? We instinctively parse problems according to past stimuli or new, foreign stimuli. If we dealt with an unpleasant past experience and failed to deal with it in a productive manner, repeating the event becomes more stressful. Similarly, a new event can provide an equitable or even super-stimulus that causes a stress response of an equal or greater magnitude. Those who are prone to a stress reaction based upon previous or new causation are more likely to repeat the same process over and over again, much like a habit. Those who have experienced positive outcomes with repeating stimuli or enjoy changeable environments are more likely to see things differently. These people have a divergent perspective—their causal interpretations follow a different logical path.
Examples of Stressful Stimuli
Below are some examples of potential stress-causing stimuli:
- A car breaks down
- An unexpected move
- A personal illness
- An illness or death in the family
- A change in lifestyle
- A traffic jam
- A bill arrives in the mail
- A long line at the grocery store
- A new deadline at work
Some of these potential stress-causing stimuli sound trivial, and that is the point of causality, stimuli, and perception. This is where we are different. A car breaking down is one person's incident and another's crisis.
The distinction of a stress-causing event is unique to each of us. This dissimilarity is related to our perception of the event. Most people find uncontrolled events more stressful than causalities within our control. However, our perceptions vary based on our previous experiences. For example, an individual who has dealt with a car that broke down has experience with the actions that should follow. The event, while unpleasant, is not paralyzing.
Based upon the perception of any given stimulus, we are prone to act or react in a variety of ways. Our response to the event is critical to how we behave in the future. For example, if an individual allows a new deadline at work to develop into a significant stressor, the same response will likely continue upon the next deadline. An unpleasant experience yielding a super-normal response influences perception, and the cycle of stress-caused responses becomes perpetual. Each new deadline is cause for crisis. To break the cycle, one must alter the perception of deadlines.
Below are a few examples of stress responses:
- Aching muscles and headaches
- Body discomfort
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Increased anxiety
- Racing thoughts
We can add myriad examples to this list of stress-related consequences. The point is this: super-normal stress responses are bad for us, both mentally and physically.
Let's start with analysis. What stresses you out? If your response to this question is where do I begin, then it might be a good idea to map things out. Consider starting a stress journal. Assign a number system to your daily causes of stress. If you can remember the events (causation), then you likely have a problem with your perception and response process. Assign number values to these events. The higher the number for any given event should direct you where to begin.
Next, try some personal reflection. Your perception of a causal event might be triggering an emotional mismatch between your response and the actual value of the stress event. It is a good idea to gain the perspectives of others who have overcome your stress event. How did a coworker deal with a car that needed repair? This can help alter your perception of stress-causing stimuli.
Finally, relax. Chill out. Acknowledge that you are engaged in a super-normal response to an event and take inventory of the consequences of your response. Do something you enjoy. Create a logical action plan to overcome the event and eschew emotion.
Ultimately, your response to a causal event falls within our complex set of human emotion. Surgically remove the emotion from the equation and you will find logic. Respond logically, not irrationally. Not everything is worthy of crisis.
View the rest of the 52 Tips in 52 Weeks series here!