Stress begins when a particular event disorients you and knocks you out of balance. You are nudged or shoved into an unbalanced state and need to right yourself. This life situation could be a change in temperature, a threat from another person, death of a loved one, or some other change in your life to which you need to adapt. We all know, however, that the same situation presented to different people may result in different reactions. That is because different people will interpret the situation differently. This is termed their 'cognitive appraisal' and can be controlled.
We have a life situation that is perceived. Such feelings as fear, anger, and insecurity or feelings of being overpowered, frustrated, pressured, or helpless may be results of perceiving a life situation as stressful. These feelings lead to physiological stimulation. If physiological stimulation is chronic or prolonged, illness or disease may result. In addition, stress can lead to other consequences, like inefficient performance and interpersonal relationships at work, school, or home.
Setting Up Roadblocks
Once the succession from a life situation through emotion, physiological stimulation, insight, and susceptibility to illnesses and other consequences is understood, it is then possible to hamper these consequences from occurring. Intervention entails setting up roadblocks at different points on the stress model.
For example, even though a life situation requiring adaptation presents itself to you, a roadblock between that life situation and the next phase could be set up. This roadblock could consist of prescribed medications (tranquilizers, sedatives), drugs, or an assertion on your part that you will just not permit yourself to consider this situation as upsetting. Regarding the last option, you might decide to focus upon the positive aspects of the situation.
A roadblock between the perception phase and the emotion phase can also be established. To prevent disturbing physiological stimulation, you can employ various kinds of relaxation techniques to tame potential emotional reactions. The blocks between it and poor health must consist of some form of physical activity that utilizes the stress resources.
Some stress management programs teach people meditation, yoga, or time management. Your goal, however, will not be to eliminate all of your stress. Remember, there is a minimum amount of stress that we need to have in our lives. Thus, it is impossible, and undesirable, to eliminate all stress.
The Positive Stress: Eustress
Stress has positive consequences. Stress that leads to positive consequences is what we call eustress. When stress leads to actions that are beneficial to the person, it is called eustress. And when stress encourages optimum performance, that is also attributable to eustress. You probably have experienced stress that made you consider yourself better for the experience when it was over - either it was a positive life event that required significant adjustment, or a more threatening event that led you to make important changes in your life.
In any case, you were stressed for the better. That is eustress. Here are a few other examples:
- Having to present an important report to a major client and getting pats on the back afterwards because stress made you prepare extra hard for it.
- Asking the person you have a crush on since middle school to the prom because you've pressured yourself that now is the right time to do so.
- Having a friend tell you what he or she does not like about your attitude and changing this ill trait to make yourself a better person
Managing stress is really just exercising control rather than giving it up to others or to your environment. So often we hear others say, “So and so made me angry!” No one can make you angry. Rather, you allow yourself to be angered by what so and so has said or done. When you describe your behavior as dependent upon another’s, you have given up control of that behavior to that other person.
The actual event does not necessarily have anger as its consequence. The anger was brought to that situation by you – not by the event or another person. On some days, the same event would not have resulted in your becoming angry. You may have been having a great day and telling yourself it was so great that nothing was going to ruin it. What’s more, nothing did! You are the master of your ship. You may not be able to influence other people to alter what they say or do, but you can alter your reaction to what they say or do. No one can tell you to do otherwise.
Thus, it is up to you if you want other people's behavior or actions to affect you and cause an impact. It is up to you whether you should practice relaxation techniques when faced with these kinds of situations or not. The practice of these techniques is a good example of taking responsibility for your actions and taking control of your life.
It would be dysfunctional to employ stress management techniques in a stressful way – and yet, that is not uncommon. The more you try to control stress and suppress it, the more stressed you will likely become; so take a breather. Since you have not bothered to use comprehensive stress management for the many years of your life, don’t rush into it now.
Making a Commitment
While you are advised not to rush into stress management, a beginning should be made immediately. That first step is significant since subsequent steps depend upon it. Since chronic or prolonged stress reactivity may result in your becoming ill, the longer you wait to begin controlling stress, the less healthy you can expect to be. If you’re healthy now, you want to maintain that status. If you’re persistently ill and that illness is exacerbated by stress, you can move towards health by managing that stress.
Determine your commitment to managing your stress by completing a contract with yourself. Don’t make the contract too stressful. Try to be realistic. Set both rewards and punishments for accomplishments and failures. There is no time like the present.