What is stress, anyway?
Stress seems to seethe all around us – you read about it in the newspapers and magazines, hear about it on the TV, google about it on the Web. There appears to be a consensus out there: Stress is hazardous to your health and well-being.
Stress is seldom defined. They tell you to avoid it, that you need to “de-stress” your life, but only rarely does anyone tell you just how to do that. So you worry – you even stress about having stress – rather than doing something about it. For after all – what in the world can you do?
Actually, the word “stress” is used in two senses; we need to distinguish between them, in order to make any sense at all. First, stress means a physiological reaction in the body: the adrenal glands put out cortisol and adrenaline, the heart speeds up, the breath comes faster. You might have an uncomfortable, “pressured” feeling (actually, this is dis-stress – see below).
The second meaning of stress is an outside situation or event that evokes this stress reaction. I will call this a stressor and reserve the word stress for the physiological reaction
The making, and unmaking, of a stressor
Like beauty, a stressor is often in the eye (or the mind) of the beholder, stressing me out but not you. There are lots of reasons for this: individual temperament and history, the different associations you or I make or don’t make, the different meanings we make of various external happenings and situations.
It is important to realize that you can change a stressor into something else, by changing you outlook, or reframing. A noisy environment, for example, may feel stressful, but you may learn to ignore it, to tune it out – one less stressor. Or you might fret at having to do an unfamiliar task, until you realize it’s a great opportunity to learn something new.
Stress is neutral
Although most of our take on stress is that it is a bad thing, actually in itself it is neither good nor bad. The notion that all stress is bad is a misconception: there is good stress as well as bad stress.
The positive kind of stress is known as eustress1. Eustress includes excitement, positive anticipation, challenging tasks, determination. Negative stress, which most of us think of as just “stress”, is called distress.
It is interesting to notice that the physical symptoms are the same, though the mental experiences are very different. It is our reactions to each potential stressor that determine whether it is stressful in the first place (it might be just neutral), and if so, whether it is dis-stressing or positive. Sometimes you can control how you react and therefore whether you have a positive or a negative experience.
Say, for instance, you meet someone you don’t know, in a social situation. This could feel [dis-]stressful to you (as it does to some people). If you change your frame of mind, however, thinking to yourself, “Here is my chance to find out about a possibly interesting, fascinating new person” you may find yourself intrigued and excited by the encounter – eustress.
Changing stressors into non-stressors
The lesson here is that you can learn to control your internal reactions to external situations and events, to make conscious choices rather than reacting from habit, from old
associations that you made somewhere in the past. Notice what mental associations you unconsciously make, then make better mental connections between what used to be stressors
and new, positive outcomes.
- If someone is pushing your buttons, disarm or re-program those triggers (see “Meeting the Hypnotist Within”, Chapter 4 in How to Get Unstuck).
- Does a criticism upset you, or do you [truly] welcome it as a possible resource for self–improvement?
- When you have too much on your plate 1) make a to-do list; 2) prioritize; 3) find ways to get help, if you can.
- Learn to live in the present, neither worrying about the future (see “Conquering Anxiety”, Chapter 12, in How to Get Unstuck) nor dwelling on the past.
- Reframe what used to be stressful situations.
Stressed while driving?
- Late and stuck in traffic? See upcoming mellowfortheroad ii
- Plan, to avoid stressors. If being late stresses you out, plan so that you leave earlier. If you are in a stressful relationship, change it or consider getting out of it.
- Convert dis-stress (negative stress) into eu-stress (positive stress). Instead of feeling pressured, sense excitement. Instead of being anxious or afraid, feel peace and serenity. Let yourself feel challenged instead of threatened.
We cannot avoid all stress
Sometimes things do happen beyond your control: disappointments, disasters, deaths, divorces, getting laid off. Change can be stressor, causing stress reactions in your body: heart, cancer, diabetes, immune system, etc. Getting out of a stressful situation may not be an option – you need that job, even though it is stressful; your parents are your parents, and always will be.
Taking control over your stress is vital to living both long and well. Everyone can be healthier, by learning to control their body’s stress responses2. De-stressing [the dis-stress] can boost your immune system as well as your heart, your digestive system, and all of your other organs and body-systems.
Quantum Focusing3 blends self-hypnosis, meditation, spiritual practice, and creative stress management in a modality that is a mental martial art, a program of
healing for mind, body, and spirit. In particular, QF
- helps you change your basic responses to stressors; thereby changing what is stressful in your life;
- helps you turn the seeds of tranquility on deep inside you (like when you work with your “Inner Hypnotists”);
- allows you to respond to life’s stressors from a base of inner security and deep-seated confidence;
- teaches you to quickly move into Quantum Focusing enhanced states of consciousness in the here and now;
- helps you to be active instead of reactive;
- puts you in control of yourself; and
- teaches you to replace dis-stress with eu-stress.
End of Distress Exercise
This exercise is described toward the end of Chapter 5, “Creative Stress Management, Relieving Distress” in Getting Unstuck. After taking yourself into “The Zone” you mentally review
past events or preview future ones in a way that promotes new, healing outcomes. Practicing this exercise regularly automatically removes negative stress reactions before they occur and
helps prepare you to choose your course of action when future events arrive.
Much of this article is based on the material in How to Get Unstuck, A Light-Hearted, Self-Hypnosis Workbook, Michael Ellner and Alan Barsky, 2011.
1 The term eustress was first used by endocrinologist Hans Selye in 1975. In his article, Selye talked about how persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation, deemed distress, may lead to anxiety or withdrawal (depression) behavior. In contrast, if the stress involved enhances function (physical or mental, such as through strength training or challenging work) it may be considered eustress. [Wikipedia]
2 The Relaxation Response, by Herbert Benson
3 Described in How to Get Unstuck and IBS Relief: Relieve Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, by Michael Ellner and Alan Barsky