Sometimes stress can seem to be caused by our work. At other times it’s our home life, our relationships and the circumstances of our life. Yet underlying all of the various factors that trigger us to feel stressed is one underlying dynamic.
The real problem with stress is that it masks it’s real cause with smoke and mirrors. And so rather than tackle the root, which would help us to actually make a real difference, we get distracted by what we think are causing our stress and so find it hard to get to grips with the real issue. And so stress keeps returning to us, just dressed up in different clothing.
Life is really a very simple thing. We are here, we want to get to here. Stress is the thing or things that seem to block us, hinder us or hold us back in our journey. Stress is the frustration we feel at being held apart from what we want.
The most basic form of stressor is something that threatens our survival or physical wellbeing. So the angry bear chasing us or the car that cuts us up triggers a stress response because it comes between us and our basic goal… to survive. The stress response is an instinctive mechanism that helps us to focus our efforts and deal with the obstacle to our basic goal.
Today though, most of our stress comes emotionally and psychologically. It comes because something seems to block, threaten or hinder a goal that we believe is necessary to our emotional wellbeing. However whilst our basic goal of survival is pretty clear cut, our emotional goals aren’t so black and white.
Stress seems to come from unreasonable people, unreasonable situations and so to be thrust upon us. But actually stress is really about inner conflict. It’s like the smash of two cars colliding.
Only it’s the collision of two or more thoughts that make up the psychological structure of your mind. It comes from the frustration you feel at something that holds you back from achieving your goal. Quite often the thing holding you back is a lack of clarity, certainty or priority. I want to be at this meeting and also at my daughter’s concert, but physically can’t. I want to be this and that. Or I want to be here, but this is stopping me from getting there.
Stress = Frustrated Urge To Achieve
Do you know the type of driving style that creates most stress for other Motorists?
It’s not the most dangerous Driver’s. It’s not the fastest or even the most obnoxious Driver’s?
It’s actually the Dawdler’s. The Sunday afternoon Grandad who prevent everyone from travelling at the speed they want to be at.
Because it’s not just the actual threat of danger that provokes stress, it’s also the feeling of being blocked, held back or hindered from our path.
For example, Soldiers have been found to actually have lower stress levels during active duty whne they are being shot at, than in times of inactivity when they have nothing better to do than endless cleaning.
Because in a war, they are doing what they believe in and want to do. In peace time, they are restricted from being able to let loose and are hindered with irrelevant tasks.
The Stress Of Being Held Back
Let’s use an example of someone who’s feeling stressed to explain the dynamic. Here’s one.
Jane is stressed because: My Co-worker is wanting to do things her own way and so it weakens the system that everyone else uses, making it less effective and so meaning we all have to work harder, but she won’t listen.
In Jane’s case she wants to get her work done effectively and also get along with her work colleague. But from her current perspective, this seems to be a challenge because her Co-Worker’s attitude stands directly between her and the achievement of her goal. But of course, the mind doesn’t think in such terms.
Let’s try to create a visual representation of how Jane might see this situation in her mind. Imagine Jane is climbing a ladder and just a couple of rungs above is the prize. But then her Colleague decides to grab her by the ankles and hang on for dear life.
Clearly Jane is not strong enough to climb with this additional weight and so, as she sees it, she can’t achieve her goal through no fault of her own.
It’s this kind of imagery that makes people so stressed and frustrated. It’s the irritation, indignation and immobilisation that really causes the type of stress we experience today.
The Fight Or Flight Response
You see, the natural stress response is ‘fight or flight’. The body mobilises it’s resources to act in the way the mind sees as most effective in that situation.
In most cases, given both options, the preferred option will be flight. However if flight would cause greater loss, eg loss of Alpha status, then we fight. But in both cases, we physically move through the situation. In other words, we use up the resources the body has mobilised and we take action on the stressor and so the situation passes and with it the feeling and biochemicals of stress.
The reason why stress has become such a modern epidemic is because the nature of stress has changed significantly.
Modern day stress still evokes our instinctual ‘fight or flight’ response, but in most cases today we do neither.
We don’t typically run out of the office when our Boss acts in a way that makes us nervous. Nor do we usually punch those we are in charge of when they frustrate us. Socialisation has trained us to mask our true feelings and urges. So while a stressful situation threatens us, the real trigger for modern stress, is not the threat, but the feeling of being trapped.
The Problem Without An Acceptable Response
What does it mean to feel trapped?
It feels like you have no power, no choice, as if you are a victim of a higher power. Unable to flee and equally inhibited to lash out, the stressful situation becomes prolonged.
Even hours later when the situation has long gone, we hold onto it mentally because we still have the psychological dissonance between what we instinctively wanted to do and the options our conditioning told us were open to us. We become paralysed mentally and replay the scene in our mind over and over again, because we are frozen in our response. We haven’t chosen from the two instinctual responses and so we don’t seem to have moved through the situation.
You see, although your Boss might well be an idiot, although that Driver should put his foot down and your child should listen to you, it is possible that the same situation could hardly register to someone in the same circumstances because they would interpret it differently. Therefore if you can find another way to interpret the situation, you can avoid feeling stressed. And so your ability to regulate and control the extent to which stress affects you is entirely dependent on the way you think about what happens.
This means that even though you are stuck with cantankerous people and difficult dilemmas, you can maintain peace of mind by mastering the art of dealing with stress. And dealing with stress, is all about resolving conflict.
To restore peace to your mind you must either change your thought structure or what you are seeing to fix this collision. The question I always ask is;
Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right?
Typically people try to change the world. If only the Governement did this. If they would just X. But it is so wasteful of your energy to focus on that. Of course there are things in the world that need to change. That is what gives us a sense of purpose and mission.
But our first mission is to move ahead with clarity in a relaxed and open state of mind. We can do nothing effectively from a panicked mind.
In the rest of this guide we will look at dealing with stress. But for now in simple terms, it really boils down to working out where you stand on each issue.
Can’t be in two places at once? Decide which is the priority for you and then acknowledge the limitations of living in a physical world.
Can’t meet a deadline without compromising quality? Which is the priority, quality or punctuality?
Stress is largely an outcome of not having defined what your life is about. It’s mostly a case of prioritisation and accepting that although life gives you infinite choice, it is a buffet, not to all be consumed at one sitting.
Advanced Stress Management Guide Contents
What Is Stress?
What Are The Costs of Stress?
What Are The Effects of Stress?
What Are The Causes of Stress?
How Do People Generally Cope With Stress?
The Mindset Shift: It’s Ok To Be Stressed, But Get Over It Quickly
The Secret To Emotional Stress Management
Reduce Stress And Avoid The Stress Tax
How To Deal With Stress
The Way To Relieve Stress
The Law Of Fairness
Pyrrhic Victory And The Value Of Losing