Stress is an inevitable part of life. Even living on a desert paradise has its stresses. But, stress is not something to be avoided at all costs. Some stress is positive (called “Eustress”–coined by Hans Seyle), such as adjusting to a new job or promotion, planning a wedding, or bringing a new child into the world.
What most of us would like is to learn how to better manage the negative stress. This might include getting fired, going through a divorce, dealing with health issues, difficult people, or even a community crisis.
One definition of stress describes 3 criteria:
- The non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it.
- When an internal or external demand exceeds a person’s coping abilities.
- A sense of losing control, either actual or perceived.
A lot of the focus on stress is how to manage the stress through meditation, relaxation techniques, or other ways to treat the stress once it has occurred. These are all helpful for the times when the stress has arrived and is taking up residence in your body. Wouldn’t it be great if you could figure out ways to prevent the stress from showing up?
There are things we can do to reduce the frequency and extent of the stresses in our lives. It’s a little more challenging than learning a technique, but it can make life easier, more pleasant and empowering. Even with learning how to prevent the stress from occurring in the first place, there will still be times when that won’t happen–and that’s when the tools to manage it will be most helpful.
Looking at the second definition listed above, one way to prevent some of the stress from occurring is to increase your coping abilities. This can include strengthening your body to better meet physical demands, strengthening your mind to meet mental challenges, and identifying your emotions to learn how to react to situations better, such as developing Emotional Intelligence skills.
The third definition indicates the role of perception in creating stress. This means you need to identify which perceptions you have that increase your stress, and how you might challenge or reframe those perceptions. For example, you might perceive someone as being smarter than you and make the assumption that their smarts will make you look worse in a work situation. You might perceive someone as being difficult, and assume you won’t be able to have a successful relationship with them, whether it be work related, social or in your personal life.
As you can see, your perceptions generate assumptions, and those assumptions drive your behavior. When the perceptions and the negative assumptions that flow from them cast you in an unfavorable light–even if just in your own mind, you are setting up stressful reactions for yourself. You are compromising your own coping skills. Your feelings of perceived inadequacy set the stage for a variety of stress reactions.
So, what can you do to counteract the downward cycle? In order to avoid excessive demands on yourself–(more stress!), pick one aspect at a time to work on to become more stress-resistant . You might choose to work on improving your coping abilities, or you might work on identifying and challenging your perceptions and assumptions. This requires not only paying attention to the perceptions and assumptions as they occur, it also means you will look for alternate perceptions and assumptions that will serve to reduce or avoid your stress response.
If you’d like more information on what I’ve presented here, feel free to contact me for some exercises and tools to help you strengthen your internal resources.