Have you ever noticed how sometimes you will be going along feeling just fine, then all of a sudden, some little thing pushes you right over the edge? That’s how stress usually hits me. I won’t even have a clue that I’m approaching the stress zone until I respond inappropriately to something.
Then there are those super resourceful times, you know the ones, when nothing seems to faze you and you feel almost stress proof. It’s like you can handle anything without getting the least bit rattled. In fact, I’m like that so much of the time that it really surprises me when I lose it over something trivial.
Why such different reactions to stress?
Have you ever wondered why it is that our reaction to a stress can vary so much? What is it that makes us untouchable one day and vulnerable the next?
Well, there are several factors at work here, but they all have something in common. They all fit into the category of things that can be improved with the application of a few advanced life skills. Granted, we can’t always control the source of our stress, but we can make improvements in the way stress affects us.
Internal resource and your stress threshold
This is the major variable when it comes to how we respond to stress. When we are running low on internal resources we become much more susceptible to the influence of stress. You know the feeling you get when you are being pulled in ten different directions and nothing is working out the way it should.
It doesn’t take very long before your internal resources are stretched to the max in a situation like that. That’s when some little thing pushes you over your stress threshold. Of course, it’s not really the little thing that caused you to stress out, it’s everything that came before it. That little thing was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Stress is cumulative
Even small amounts of unresolved stress, applied constantly over a period of time, can tax your resources to the breaking point. This kind of stress is more insidious and will often go unnoticed until you are ready to explode. Think of all the possible sources that might be contributing to this scenario.
One of the reasons we may not notice cumulative stress is because we tend to compartmentalize it. Work stress goes in one internal file, and financial stress goes in another. The problem is, our nervous system feels the cumulative effect. On an emotional level, it all spills over into the same stress pool, like dozens of tiny streams all flowing into one big lake of tension.
Stress is not always a bad thing
Stress is a reality of life, and believe it or not, that’s not always a bad thing. A manageable amount of stress can be extremely motivating. It’s amazing how much we can accomplish when the right amount of pressure is on.
Have you ever astonished yourself by accomplishing something extraordinary because there was some kind of powerful incentive involved? Whether it was a deadline, a bonus, or a limited window of opportunity, it was still some form of manageable stress that had this motivating influence on you.
Controlled amounts of stress make us stronger
When we exercise we expose our bodies to physical stress in a progressive way. As our bodily systems adapt to the new levels of stress, we get stronger. But you wouldn’t want to try to run a marathon or do a 500 pound bench press after two weeks of training. That kind of overload would be a disaster.
Some of the same principals apply emotionally. We can actually raise stress tolerance levels if we go about it progressively. For example, the responsibility of getting married might be perceived as a manageable challenge for a young person. But getting married to a woman with three children would probably involve a higher level of stress and anxiety. And yet, growing a family progressively feels perfectly normal.
3 helpful tips for balancing stress
So how do we manage our exposure to stress so it serves us instead of crushing us? Let’s look at some practical ways to address the sources of stress we’ve just considered.
1) Internal resourcefulness. As we learn advanced life skills that foster our personal growth, we become more emotionally resourceful. By learning to adjust our perception of the people and events in our life, we actually change the way stress registers on our nervous system. Perception can be our greatest asset, or our worst liability. We can choose whether something is a huge source of stress or just a minor inconvenience. Yes, this is a learned skill, but it’s the one that determines the quality of our life. That makes it worth learning!
2) Don’t let issues go unresolved. To prevent the accumulation of stress we need to resolve problems as they arise. Instead of wishing things would change, we need to initiate change wherever possible. If there is friction with others, reach out to resolve it. If some area of your life has become a source of unnecessary stress, give it some attention. By resolving situations that have a high stress potential as they arise, you interrupt the cumulative effect before it gets overwhelming.
3) Raise your tolerance. If some big task feels overwhelmingly stressful, break it down into manageable stages. Instead of focusing on the whole project, turn your attention to one piece at a time. In reality, almost every big project is made up of smaller steps performed in a progressive sequence. Training yourself to mentally break things down into smaller components will eliminate much of the stress and change your perception from overwhelming to manageable.
Think in terms of less, not more
Filling your life to the brim with productive pursuits is a proven recipe for stress. Don’t feel that “there’s no time” for activities that help you unwind. Regular attention to the more relaxed side of life will actually increase your productivity because it relieves stress and leaves you feeling more resourceful.
Stress is taking a ridiculously high toll on people these days. A huge percentage of physical, mental, and emotional disorders are the direct result of stress. I encourage you to take a serious look at your life and take steps to lower, manage, and resolve the sources of stress you discover. Life is meant to be enjoyed, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This means learning to balance stress so it doesn’t consume us.
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