So much is written these days about stress and stress management. When I am asked to speak, repeatedly the sponsor will ask if I could please address the issue of stress. A large percentage of our clients come to the office looking for ways to deal with their stress as if it were some uninvited visitor that has intruded on their otherwise peaceful lives. Here’s a news flash that some of you may not want to hear ñ you were the one that invited this culprit in, maybe you need to send this uninvited guest packing.

Who is this culprit stress, this thief who robs us of our life and energies? The dictionary definition of stress is a strain or straining force exerted upon a body ñ an applied stress tends to strain or deform shape. The definition goes on to say that the intensity of such a force is usually measured in pounds per square inch. Although one cannot measure stress in pounds per square inch as it applies to the human body, we are not excluded from these same universal laws that govern our physical universe.

Each of us needs a certain level of stress to be able to carry out and perform our regular and daily routine tasks. As a matter of fact, without a certain level of stress at an optimal and healthy level, it would be impossible for us to work, live, or engage in any activities. Therefore, a healthy amount of stress is a definite need for human life.

The key is to determine what is too much stress, and when we need to alter our daily activities to reduce our stress. The difficult part is that there is no one single answer. What one individual may find stressful is just seen as a challenge to someone else. In other words, it’s our perception of things. When we perceive too many situations in our lives as crises, we chronically over activate our fight or flight response, which equates to an unhealthy stress.

Here’s a simple example of how a healthy stress can and will become an unhealthy stress. My daughter was an excellent student in her years at middle school. She loved her teachers and she found the work challenging. By the time she entered junior high they wanted her to take accelerated classes, which I kept telling them, "no don’t do that. " I remember sitting in her counselor’s office one day finding all the reasons I gave being met with resistance as to why I didn’t think it would be appropriate for her at this time. I recall finally saying, "look, this is a child that needs a lot of time just to sit in a tree." I relented for a while which was a huge mistake for her and the challenge became an unhealthy stress.

For some of us stress can be a domineering boss that reminds us subconsciously of a father that we could never please, a traffic jam that makes us fearful of being late, or a work task for which we are poorly suited leaving us with feelings of failure. It can truly be just about anything.

The two key elements to help you define a healthy verses an unhealthy stress are how well are you matched to the task at hand and your perception of that task. If you are naturally a high energy individual, maybe, just maybe you won’t be well suited for sitting all day at a computer terminal. Your perception of things is a variable that you can exert some control over. What is the subconscious message (boring, tiring, stupid, not up to your abilities etc) you are sending and is it valid given the situation?

Of course, there are many other ways of reducing stress including improved diet, more rest, more playtime ñ to name just a few. Of course I don’t imagine that just slowing down and taking time to live your life instead of just racing through it would help! What do you think?

Till next time, Rebecca.