Monday, October 02, 2006


Let me say this upfront: I don't know if the following post on stress is helpful, or boring, a good read or worthless chatter. I'll appreciate any opinion or feedback you're inclined to share. My criteria for writing something like this is very simple: it either helps because you understand something in a new light, or it puts you to sleep. If it's the latter, I'm better off knowing. :)

Stress is bad. And common. Even small anoyances and irritations--a rude sales clerk, a snappish friend, a messy bathroom--can trigger the body’s stress response--affecting digestion, immunity, cognitive and sensory skills, pain threshold, even sexual drive. It comes in all forms--a dead car battery when you’re late already, a sick child when you’re due to fly to Chicago, a broken promise, a performance review by a supervisor who doesn’t like you, or even by one who does. Then add the catastrophic--the unexpected diagnosis, a job lay off, the end of a relationship.

Stress and conflict are an inevitable part of life, but the actual events that take place are only part of the problem. Your body reacts when you only think about an event or problem, even those that have not even occurred--the IRS audit, the mounting bills, the career challenge, the inevitability of death. Did you know that your mind cannot tell the difference between imagined versus real danger?

Even with effort and awareness, you can't always avoid stress. You do not have to let actual or anticipated problems dictate your mood, but that is exactly what will happen if you do not intervene in some way. It helps to know that from the moment the alarm clock goes off and your feet hit the bedroom floor, you are influenced by last night’s dreams, yesterday’s worries, by old stress and new stress. You don't start with a fresh slate unless you find a way to bypass their effects on you, and if you don't do that, your day can start badly before it even begins.

You can’t control most of the events that happen as you live your life, but you can control how you respond to them. The trick is to be able to bypass your mind, which worries about every thing, and your ego, which needs to be right. You do this by not letting stress accumulate, by not letting one difficult event spill into another, by walking away from conflict whenever you can, and by using proven stress management techniques: Yoga. Prayer. Meditation. Exercise.

Chronic worry is bad for you--especially when you worry about things that may or may not happen. Because your mind doesn't know whether your house has burned down or you are simply worrying that your house may burn down, the result can be disastrous to your physical well-being. Symptoms from colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatique, fibromalgia, and headaches have a direct link to this kind of worry overload. (Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, 1998)

There are many people who would tell you that stress is healthy and stress management is worthwhile. I'm not one of them. I view it a different way: I think it's best to keep a watchful eye not to let stress and worry accumulate from one day to the next. Take breaks. Take time. Remember to breathe out, not just in. And have a 2 or 3 minute technique you can count on when you need to clear your head fast. And, then, of course, live your life.......


  1. I really liked this piece. I, as a chronic, constant worrier, would like to see more about how to let go of stress on a daily basis--more about prayer, meditiation, yoga, exercise. More on how to let go. I have been reading a lot of sort of self helpy books lately and the ones that I have been looking at have mostly been Buddhist. They tend to say things like "Don't get attached," but they never say ho to not get attached. In this piece, you start to go to the how and I think that is wonderful, brilliant, and unigue. And you have such a reassuring common sense voice. You leave me saying "More, say more, tell me more!"

  2. What! There is no advice to grab a Belgian Chocolate candy bar! This piece is missing that advice.

    I always had stressful jobs. God - I was an ER trauma nurse. What stressed me the most was performing all those mental mathematical calculations for drug doses on little children lying unconscious and physicians and other nurses telling you to give her a dose of this and that and they are calculated in micrograms, it has to be given right away and they need it now - where is that damn medication, I need it NOW and that bag of blood, I need 3 units of packed red blood cells now!, you want a type and cross match? damn you, my patient is dying, GIVE ME A UNIVERSAL TYPE NOW! I want it NOW - RUN! He wants what? Yeah and I want a mink coat! How many joules, STAND CLEAR! Oh my God, she is breathing...oh she's opening her eyes............................. Thank you Lord!

    My heart rate jumped to 175 beats/minute just writing this comment.

    So I really need chocolates and don't tell me I can't have them.

  3. ces: very broad smile.
    you've written a can't catch-your-breath action movie here.

    and you are 100% about the belgian chocolate. i don't know what i was thinking.

    greta jane: more to come, maybe, probably, i think so.

  4. of course i like the yoga references. and the bit about not letting stress seep into other areas of life is good too.

  5. Ah...stress. Just reading the word makes my shoulders tighten! Thanks for the reflection!

  6. Stress is very dangerous and now my girls are on their own I have started the process of letting worry go. Great post and one that cannot be ignored :)

  7. I find sudden violent bursts of crying help.

    Seriously, stress is something that I denied for a long time. I'm a plate-spinner, me, look at my juggling skills, aren't I clever? Then crash. bang. clatter. they all started toppling at once. Now I try and spin fewer but with a more consistent rhythm.

  8. Hi KJ...

    I don't think this is boring at all, particularly seeing that you're a counsellor and consultant.

    It's views people can use. These are good, practical ideas.

    I tend to be able to handle stress of all kinds pretty well, or at least think I do. People say I'm solid and grounded, but I'm not so sure.

    I can tend to think too much and feel too much for my own good.

    On the other hand, I think people who don't do enough of that are the ones who seem to be the most stressed because they bury those things so far down they disappear and are never dealt with.

    Anyhow, I love fascinating stuff like this. Thanks for visiting my blog and I warmly invite you back any time.

  9. Great post.

    I used to believe that I coped well with stress. When my mother died I tried to step into her shoes; I kept everyone together and I am still relied on to do so. Others broke down, took to drink, became agressive - I just dusted myself off and carried on. I once heard someone say that I was "an ice maiden".

    These days I am the one with high blood pressure. I have changed my way of thinking and realise that I am probably the one who least coped well with the stress.

    My salvation lies in blogging...

  10. i think recognizing stress is a giant step. if you try to keep it inside, it builds like a tea kettle on high heat. and then there's no where for the steam to go, one way or another.

    it;s funny. i brush my teeth twice a day without fail. so why don't i regularly take 10 minutes once or twice a day to de-stress?

    greta jane, within without, cherrypie, miladysa, i hear you! if i posted a couple of quickie exercises, would you try them?