The word stress is an interesting word, as just about everyone knows how stress feels, but few people can accurately define what stress is. The reason for this is probably because stress isn’t tangible, it isn’t seen directly, and it’s not something you can place on a table and teach people about. A general, simple definition of stress is an organism’s response to a stressor such as an environmental condition (i.e. unexpectedly losing a job). Stress occurs when we doubt our own abilities and resources, and perceive that we might not be able to successfully overcome the stressor. In these instances, we must choose between “fight or flight” and develop a coping response that is both effective and healthy. Stress, therefore, plays a big part of the human experience, prompting us to learn as much as we can about stress, as well as how to beat stress.
One person’s garbage is another person’s treasure
Isn’t it amazing how the same object or life task can be experienced so differently by people? For example, two students assigned to the same difficult teacher can interpret the experience quite differently. The first student, after hearing all the horror stories about the teacher from previous students, becomes terrified and immediately assumes he will fail the class (and stresses out as a result). The second student who has also heard stories about the teacher being tough, instead decides that she will be challenged to ace the class and rolls up her sleeves to do her best (and is barely impacted by any negative stress). Same teacher, same class, but completely different perceptions, expectations, and levels of stress.
E-bay is a great example of how people perceive things very differently. Every day millions of people sell of what they perceive to be of little value (often what they consider junk), to other people who bid against one another for what they perceive to be a treasure! Talk about the power of perception.
5 important facts about stress
It’s important to learn as much as you can about stress since stress is a big part of the human experience. That said, here are 5 facts about stress to think about:
- Stress is inevitable. No matter who you are, what you do, or the money you have one thing is certain in life: You will regularly experience stress. Even when things are going well in life you simply can’t avoid someone cutting you off in traffic, a disgruntled employee, a spilled coffee, or an unexpected phone call that gives you bad news. To try and live a stress-free life, therefore, is a fruitless endeavor that will only take you away from living life to your fullest — and likely add even more stress.
- Stress is different for everyone. This point cannot be stressed enough — when stress knocks at your door, will you view the situation as a challenge or threat? That one, simple decision will have a dramatic impact relating to whether you succumb to stress, or cull all your resources and beat stress.
- Stress response is more important than stress itself. The reality is that the stressors you experience in life are far less a factor related to wellness than your stress response habits. For example, if you lose your job unexpectedly you could choose to feel threatened and cope by going on a drinking binge (not healthy or advised), or you can choose to view the situation as a life challenge and immediately begin updating your resume, networking with friends, and keeping a positive attitude.
- There is both good and bad stress. Although we generally think of stress in bad terms (distress), did you know that psychologists recognize good stress as well? Yes, good stress is known as eustress, and although the stressor is generally a positive event in life (i.e. planning for a wedding, or experiencing a job promotion with more responsibilities), there is still stress to address. In fact, some of my clients over the years have told me how confused they were that when things were going extremely well for them in life, they still felt stressed out — what they were dealing with was eustress.
- No drug is better than your own human resiliency when it comes to stress. Getting drunk or using recreational drugs to numb the pain of stress might “work” in the short-run in that it allows for a temporary respite, the reality is that coping to stress by use of drugs will only compound matters long-term. Similarly, while it would be nice to think that your family physician can prescribe magic pills to eliminate your stress, the reality is that any drug prescribed to you may bring even more stress by way of side- and withdrawal-effects. Strengthening your mental toughness, however, is devoid of any of the problems associated with recreational and prescription drugs, and is by far the most effective means to conquering stress.
If you want to live a life of happiness, health, and peak productivity, then it is imperative that you galvanize your resiliency and learn how to most effectively deal with stress. It’s also true that otherwise talented people can struggle to reach their full potential because of their inability to successfully appraise and respond to stress, yet another reason to learn how to handle tough situations in life.