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Stress Management

Have you ever said the words, “I have a very stressful job/life” or something similar to that?

Most people believe that stress is something that has to happen in their lives.  They believe it is due to circumstances beyond their control.  We get stressed when work is too hard.  We are stressed when people in our lives are not doing what we would like them to do.  We get stressed when it’s been long since we took a vacation.  We may also experience stress from deaths, weddings, big purchases and many other things.  We talk about stress as if it was something outside ourselves – a state of things in our external environment, but it is not. 

Health professionals say that stress is a contributing factor of numerous physical illnesses, like asthma, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and several others.  You can read about the different diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, the diagnostic tool used by therapists and psychiatrists which describes many stress-related disorders.  Stress has been the main reason for causing the death of many people.  Has is ever occurred to you that certain individuals are able to handle stress better than others do? 

One person could have all the life circumstances that will usually cause stress but seem to be relaxed and apparently without care, while someone else could have a complete melt down just from a flat tire.  How do you explain this? 

The fact is you could be the one allowing your stress to control you.  But once you understand how you get stressed, then you can use this knowledge and implement a stress management technique to help you control your stress. 

I usually try to look at stress from a different perspective - that is the choice theory perspective. 

Based on the Choice Theory, all behaviors have a purpose.  What this means is that everything that we do is for a purposeful attempt to get something we want.  We don’t necessarily react to outside stimuli. 

You may be wondering things such as, “But what about when I flinch when I hear a loud noise?”  The flinch you get is not a response to the noise.  Instead, it is your reaction when trying to staying safe.  It may look like I’m splitting hairs, but this is a significant distinction to understand when discussing stress. 

Here is another example.  It may appear to you that you are really getting upset at your child for not cleaning his or her room after you asked several times.  It definitely feels as if the anger is in automatic reaction to your child’s behavior.  However, what is really happening is that you believe that your anger is the best way to get your child to do what you want.  You are implementing the anger towards your child because you believe that by doing so your child will go ahead and clean his or her room.  Any emotion or behavior we use is a proactive, whether it is conscious or non conscious, attempt to obtain something we want and not a response to external stimuli. 

The same applies to stress.  We use stress as a proactive attempt to get what we want.  This choice is rarely conscious, but there’s a way you can make it conscious.  Once it is conscious, then you will be able to control it and then you can choose to do it differently if you would like. 

Since all behaviors have a purpose, it will help to understand the possible benefits or purposes a person can achieve by stressing.  Why would you choose that type of behavior for any benefit? 

I would say that stressing could be motivating.  Most of us perform much better when we have that adrenalin rush running through our veins.  Anybody who has waited until the last minute to study for a test or finish an assignment knows what I am talking about here. 

Stress can also be a direct response to tell others they better back off.  At my job, for example, it was my unconscious goal to let my boss he had better not ask me to do anything else or I just might explode!  I would give him signals of overwhelm, such as lots of sigh, threatening looks, loss of humor, irritability.  Because I didn’t do these things very often, it was actually very effective.  Whenever I became stressed, my boss would usually leave me alone to do my work. 

In certain occasions, stress can even get us the help we need.  When we send them the message, others will rally around us for support.  People may even offer us to do some things so we can lessen or stop the overwhelming. 

Another advantage of stressing could be so we could be recognized. People might say, “Wow, Look at him/her. I don’t how how he/she can get all that done. It’s remarkable!” Some people value this positive recognition. 

A final thought about stressing benefits is that when we stress for too long, we may develop physical symptoms.  In Choice Theory, Dr. Glasser indicates that our behavior is total, meaning it consists of 4 inseparable components – the action, thoughts, feelings and physiology of our body or whatever the body is doing at the time.  If we don’t manage our stress levels, our physiology will take over and generate physical symptoms for us.  Remember I said that all behavior has its purpose and physiology is a part of the total behavior.  Do you recognize the purpose of the physical symptoms that go with prolonged stress?  Of course, it is a way our body tells us that we have to stop or slow down.  It creates the physical symptoms that are very difficult to ignore.  Once we attend to them, we will get the rest we need and then we will be able to reduce our stress.  Do you see how every behavior is purposeful? 

If you are having the effects of stress in your life, I am not saying that you are to be blamed.  What I am saying is that up until that spot, you have been doing the best you know how, consciously or unconsciously to get what you want by stressing.  If you can locate what are the benefits of stress for you, then you can look at the ways you can get what you need without the need to stress.