Sunday, August 2, 2015

How To Control Stress

Stress is the expression of fear, and it's the reason your body initiates the "fight or flight" response when under stress. 

The fear of not meeting a deadline. The fear of being late for work or an appointment. The fear of losing your job. The fear of a divorce. The fear of falling. The fear of dying. The fear of flying. The fear of embarrassing yourself in public, or the fear that something may go wrong.

These are some of the drivers of fear and stress. Given the responsibility to maintain tranquility in your mind and body, your nervous system produces hormones to prepare you to deal with stress.

These hormones are adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands to bring you a surge of energy, maintain your blood pressure and fluid balance, as well as make you more aware of your environment, awake and focused on making the split second decision to fight the problem causing your fear, or to run away from it.

Resting heavily on your mind as you make this split second decision is the acute awareness that it could change your life for the better or for the worse. 

This explains why when you are in a stressful situation, and adrenaline and norepinephrine are flowing in your blood, your heart rate increases, you breath faster, your muscles become tensed and you begin to sweat; indicators that you are under pressure to make a quick decision with no room for error.

If you will allow me, I will digress to tell you a story about how I once dealt with a stressful situation. When I was in college years ago, I took a summer job with a delivery company. I was living in New Jersey at the time.

On this particular day, my dispatcher who was in his late fifties, told me to pick up a package from Edison going to the UPS hub in Secaucus, which is about 15 miles from Edison.

My dispatcher said I had to deliver the package before the deadline, in order to have it on the UPS truck for the overnight delivery. He begged me to do everything I could to meet the deadline because he would lose his job if the package missed the overnight delivery.

Apparently, he dispatched the package late, and the big boss was very upset. To get to Secaucus from Edison the fastest route is the New Jersey Turnpike. A minutes after I got on the turnpike my dispatcher called me to check on my progress toward Secaucus. 

It was about 5:00 pm, the time of the day when traffic was the heaviest on the turnpike, not only because there was a toll both before the Secaucus exit, most of the traffic was heading toward the Lincoln Tunnel into New York City.

I told my dispatcher there was traffic on the turnpike, but I was making steady progress, and was hopeful to get the package delivered before the deadline.

Fifteen minutes before the deadline, he began calling me every 2 minutes to check how far I was from Secaucus. Meanwhile, I was in a bumper to bumper traffic. Frustrated drivers were changing lanes recklessly, while others were driving on the turnpike shoulder to beat the traffic.

To reduce the distraction from the ringing phone, I put it on vibration. I was now becoming stressed. I could sense the nervousness in my dispatcher's voice. He was in distress. I could only imagine what was going on in his mind. 

He was going to lose his job if the package didn't get on the overnight delivery truck. He would lose his income. He wouldn't have money to pay his mortgage. He wouldn't have money to make his car and insurance payments. He would lose his house, his car, his wife, and probably become homeless.

I was stressed not by the fear of missing the overnight delivery truck, that was my dispatcher's fear. My fear was I will be distracted by the ringing phone, and not paying full attention to the traffic get into an accident. That would really send my stress level through the roof.

I decided to solve the problem that was causing my fear, and it was, the possibility I may get into an accident. My solution was to let the phone vibrate while I focused my attention on safely getting through the traffic.

I could imagine how worried and stressed my dispatcher was when I didn't answer the phone, but I knew he would be more stressed were I not to concentrate on the traffic, and got into an accident. If that happened, it was certain the package would not get on the overnight delivery truck.

As it turned out, I made the delivery in the nick of time and got the package on the overnight delivery truck. But I learned something from the experience. 

When we focus our mental and physical resources on finding a solution to the problem that is causing our fear, the stress would disappear because there will be nothing to fuel it and keep it coming at us.  

Unfortunately, I have not always been able to follow my own advice on controlling stress. Telling someone to calm down and focus on the solution, rather than the stress, is like telling the person to calm down and sleep while his bed is on fire.

It's not easy to control stress, particularly not in our modern times. Still, if you allow it, stress would take control of your thoughts, your life, and manipulate you like a puppet on a string.

What is even worse are the stress related diseases like depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, constipation, weight gain, weakening of the immune system, stroke, cancer and others, which can cause havoc to the body and its organs.

Stress is a skillful manipulator. It disguises itself as your normal thoughts, in order to distract you from identifying the cause of your fear, and finding solution to the problem that fuels it.

All the same, smart as it is, stress can be caught off guard. When your thoughts are making your heart beat faster, your breathing faster, your muscles tensed and your palms sweating, these are signs that you are under stress. Normal thinking would not cause these reactions.

When you figure this out, you can focus your effort on finding the fear behind your stress, and then the problem that is causing the fear. On finding the solution to your problem, your fear will go away, and so would your stress.

But then, so long as the problem remains, your fear would remain, as would your stress. In some cases though, the stress may remain even when the problem that caused it no longer exists. This is the type called chronic stress. 

As for acute stress, it will go away when the fear generating problem is solved. If anything good can be said about stress, acute stress is a necessary part of modern life. It puts us on our toes, and motivates us to meet deadlines and get our jobs done both at home and at work.

Stress is destructive when it becomes chronic. Chronic stress is a mental problem, as it is a physical problem. It may have a physical origin, like a painful past experience, an unfavorable job situation, insufficient money to pay bills, and things of that sort.

When you cannot stop thinking about the negative effects of these problems on you. When you cannot see the bright side of life, then chronic stress has taken control of your thoughts and life. 

And until you solve the obsession problem, you will continue running into roadblocks stopping you from solving the effect of the physical problem, which is the root cause of your stress.

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