Stress Part 2


So, in Part 1 you learned that I had very questionable judgment in hair styling when I was younger. And you may have reflected upon one of your own bad hair, bad teeth, bad glasses, bad skin periods of your own. I left you dazzled with my reference to Buckaroo Banzai’s wisdom that “Wherever you go, there you are.” And now, you’re wondering, what does all this jibber-jabber have to do with stress? Well, let me explain it to you.

Stress accompanies us wherever we go. It’s built into our DNA as a remnant of the “fight or flight” mechanism that warned our cave forefathers and foremothers to club themselves some dinner or run for the hills and eat berries that week. Sad as it may be sometimes, we don’t really have the opportunity to club anyone these days. And work, family, and various commitments make fleeing for the hills a rather unacceptable alternative to keeping calm and carrying on. So these impulses, while they still exist, get sublimated into alternative responses that are more socially acceptable in life today. Instead of fighting, we may become angry or defensive, yell at people, get anxious, or kick the dog. Rather than flee, we may retreat into our own world, and become withdrawn, sullen, uncommunicative, or depressed.

To understand “stress” we need to properly identify it. Some say that stress is the aching you feel in your muscles when they are tight from being upset, anxious, nervous, angry and so on. But this discomfort, while a symptom of stress, isn’t stress itself. These aching muscles are better identified as tension, a physical manifestation of stress. Fatigue may also be mistaken for stress. So too, crankiness, distraction, nervousness, headaches or stomach aches, insecurity, negativity, perfectionism, frustration, procrastination, insomnia, lack of focus, anger, anxiety, substance abuse, burnout, and more. But these are really all symptoms of stress, a way that we respond to stress, not stress itself.

Think about the last time you were “stressed.” Did you lash out at someone because they irked you – even if they had nothing to do with whatever bugged you in the first place? Did you stuff down your frustration and when asked “what’s wrong?” reply with “nothing”? Think of a time when you had the impulse to be a jerk to someone who didn’t deserve it. That’s stress speaking, loud and clear. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes people are just jerks. But, we’re talking about you here, and you’re not a jerk. At least, not when you’re not stressed, right?

Stress is hazardous to one’s health in the same way as toxic chemicals and black mold. Your environment, whether at school, work, or at home, can become a breeding ground for stress, just like a dirty dish can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Noise, lighting, unrealistic demands, lack of control, bad communication, unpredictability, and other factors create a Petrie dish for stress to flourish and continue to build up over time. Even if you find a way to adapt to these stressors while you’re in the thick of it, the effects on you may express themselves at another time. We also generate stress internally from our own behaviors such as perfectionism, procrastination, self-deprecation, or an inability to get anywhere on time.

So now that we know what stress is, what can we do about it? I hoped you’d ask! In the third and final part of this story, you’ll see what we can do about stress in a way that can create lasting benefits.