- Mental Health
How to Deal With Stress
Stress Can Be Either Good or Bad
Despite its negative connotation, stress itself is both good and bad. Basically, stress is nothing more than the body's response to a change in circumstances. Something in the external environment has changed and we need to react to it.
For instance, the starting gun is fired and the runners take off - here stress is healthy and beneficial in that the body reacts to the challenge of the race and it is all systems running full throttle to win. Another example, you are running a few minutes behind but should still be able to make the important meeting on time. Suddenly the traffic on the freeway comes to a halt. You are trapped in the middle lane and between exits. Action is required and your body again energizes all systems to charge ahead. Unfortunately, there is nothing that you can do and the stress of being energized for action, but being forced to sit helplessly in your car, results in agony and a wearing down of your body.
Mental Attitude is Key to Dealing With Stress
Fortunately, we are not fully at the mercy of bad stress. True, we cannot control all of the negative stress factors in our lives, but the way we mentally approach stressful situations can enable us to either avoid bad stress in many situations or, at least, reduce the effects of bad stress. Our mental outlook and the way we approach stressful situations can give us a great deal of control over the negative effect of stress in our lives. Consider this example: a guy is standing alone at a party and admiring a gorgeous girl across the room. Suddenly, the girl turns smiles and begins walking toward the guy. The stress level of the fellow rises as body prepares for action. Three choices of action are open to him:
- He can turn and run from the building. This is good, in that the running will enable him to quickly burn off the energy that suddenly built up in his body, and it will also remove him from a potentially painful emotional experience. Rewriting the old saying “it is better not to have loved than to have loved and lost”. Life may be dull for this fellow, but it is probably not stressful.
- A second option would be for the fellow to start questioning why such a beautiful girl would want him. Going a step further, he convinces himself that he is not good looking enough, he is too dull for this woman, he is going to make stupid comments and lose her. Just like the car in the example above which is trapped in a traffic jam with no way out and no way to release the pent up energy, this fellow is trapped in a traffic jam of his own fears with no way out and no way to release his pent up energy. Stupid as this scenario seems, it is common enough so that comedians like Ray Romano (Ray Barone in “Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Jason Alexander (George Costanza in “Seinfeld”) have made fortunes playing this type of character on TV.
3 The third option is for the fellow to be overjoyed at his great fortune. Here he was, standing on the sidelines of the party trying to locate a woman to approach and trying to work up the courage to approach her, when, suddenly, the perfect woman smiles and comes to him. Taking advantage of the new rush of energy and excitement, he smiles back and begins walking toward her eagerly anticipating where this might lead. His stress is put to good use and propels him on to bigger and better things.
In all three cases above, the situation was the same but the stress was negative in only one of them. In the other two cases the stress was either neutralized (example 1) or put to good use (example 3). The determining factor in each example was the mental approach to the situation.
The simplest and best way to deal with stress is to have the right mental attitude. Understand first that we have very little control over our bodies becoming stressed or over our feelings and emotions. These are pretty much automatic reactions by our bodies and we have no control over them. However, how we deal with the situation immediately following our bodies’ initial automatic reaction is largely under our control. In the case of the car stuck in traffic, the driver can either sit, in the car, allow his anger to build and worry about being late or, simply accept the fact that he is going to be late and calmly wait for the traffic to begin moving again. Just because worry and anger were his body’s initial, and normal, reaction to the traffic jam doesn’t mean that he has to cling to them and stoke them. Hanging on to these emotions converts an annoying situation with minor stress into a crisis with major negative stress. Going a step further, this individual could use the time stuck in traffic to analyze the situation and see that the real problem here is not the traffic jam but his habit of leaving late which means that any type of obstruction or unanticipated event will result in the commute being interrupted and his being late for work. Deciding to re-arrange his schedule and leave earlier each day is a proactive response to the traffic jam that will greatly reduce the chances of encountering stressful delays in the future.
While not the only way to deal with stress, a proper mental attitude can be a giant step forward in managing and dealing with stress in your life.