What you don't know about stress, CAN hurt you, right? Absolutely. But what if I tell you that a bigger problem may be what you ALREADY believe about stress. There are many myths about stress. Here are four essential things to practice and understand about stress.
First: Stress is meant to be our friend.
Stress in its truest form, is a physical response to avoid harm. Rapid breathing and increased heart rate, for example, help prepare the body to respond to a threat. Stress protects by initiating a fight or flight response to danger. Stress is what kicks in when you encounter a big bad wolf on the way to grandmother's house. Stress is what causes you to react to a careless driver by stepping back up on a curb to avoid getting run over in the city.
Stress-free living does not exist. We must re-think stress, not as a burden, but something to be mastered for our success. Toxic stress occurs when our imagination is more active than is warranted by the reality of an event. For example, fear of failure will rob us from stepping out in new areas if we allow our mind to dwell on all the possibilities of things going wrong rather than enjoying the creativity and innovation of the moment.
Toxic stress kills many people, but living toxic-stress-free, CAN be possible.
Second: Resolving unwanted stress must focus on the inner person instead of externals.
Unwanted stress is not caused by circumstances, but by our response to the events and people associated. I first encountered this truth through a book called The Stress Myth by Richard Ecker. The back cover of the book reads, "Problems add up and the pressures of life get you down. This complex, uncertain, fast-paced world inevitably takes its toll. Right? Wrong. This myth about stress, according to Richard Ecker, is as incorrect as it is widespread. The battles of life do not have to make us casualties. Many experts mistakenly emphasize coping with stress. But prevention, says Ecker, is the key. It begins with an accurate view of God, ourselves and the world around us. Ecker also helps us understand how unwanted stress affects us at home and at work, giving sound counsel on how to have peace during trying times."
More recently I discovered an e-book by Ecker called The Emotional Survival Training Manual in which he describes more about the true meaning of stress, and why stress should not be looked upon as an unnecessary or even undesirable response. Ecker says, ”We may not encounter big, bad wolves on our way to see grandma these days, but the highways we drive to get to grandma’s house offer equal risk of physical harm— careless drivers, poor visibility, mechanical failures— all of which create conditions which we will be better able to deal with when we are under stress. But, if stress is such a necessary human reaction, how can anyone have any hope of avoiding all of those unpleasant and health- threatening consequences that we have come to associate with the experience of stress? The fact is, none of those unpleasant consequences have to occur at all— even when stress levels in the body are very high. The unpleasantness of stress occurs only when the body has no need for it and no physical outlet for it. Stress becomes a problem only when you require your body to produce more stress than it needs to satisfy its immediate physical demands. For example, if you did encounter a big, bad wolf on the way to grandma’s house, you would probably experience a substantial stress response. It would be needed to equip your body to deal with the situation— that is, to prepare you for fight or flight. Both of these options require immediate and intense physical effort. A high level of stress is always required to prepare your body for that kind of effort. But, let’s say that your situation is much less life— threatening; perhaps a bitter disappointment in your work, to which you have reacted with anger and frustration. If your reaction in this situation produces as large a stress response as the one produced in reaction to the wolf, most of that stress will be unnecessary to equip your body to deal with it— simply because your body does not need physical preparation to deal with non-physical demands. So, if your circumstances do not call for a physical response, then stress is always an inappropriate reaction. And, any stress that your body is required to produce above and beyond the amount needed to prepare it for an appropriate physical response will be what we can call “excess stress.” Excess stress is what people find unpleasant. Excess stress is what can be harmful to their health."
Third: All unwanted stress is related to a self-image problem at the core.
Toxic stress (unwanted, or excess stress as Ecker calls it)( is produced by the same mechanism in our bodies as good stress produces to combat a threat to physical security. The perceptions that cause our bodies to produce excess stress arise from threats to our emotional security— more specifically, threats to our image of self.
Our personality and emotional makeup is shaped by our background (the sum total of all experiences up to the present moment in time). Ecker says, "Fueled by prior experiences, our personalities help us interpret life events so that we can undertake an appropriate response. If our personalities are abundant with resources, few of these interpretations will credit events with having any influence on our identity, and we will not then view them as emotionally threatening. But, if our personalities are abundant with conditions, many of the life events we experience will be interpreted as having a negative influence on our concept of self— and will be considered emotionally threatening for that reason." The conditions Ecker speaks of are created by our core beliefs and value systems. When we perceive the reality of a situation to be different from what we value, our self-worth inevitably comes into question. Sometimes it takes a great amount of effort to discover our faulty belief systems, and separate our identity and worthfulness as a person from our performance on a task, social skill, or failure to measure up to some standard or so-called normal. But, the more comfortable we can become with who we are asa person, and even more, who God created us to be as a person, the greater the degree of resolution t unwanted stress we will experience.
Fourth: Ridding your life of unwanted stress begins with a choice.
Morton C. Orman, MD has authored a book called The 14 Day Stress Cure. In an article I found online, he addresses 5 most common myths about stress. Orman says, "The most damaging belief we have today is that the best way to deal with our stress is to manage it. While stress management experts are quick to point out the positive benefits of exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques, few will inform you of the negative side to these same coping strategies. ... But the biggest drawback to managing stress is that it only deals with the symptoms of our problems. It rarely helps us to clarify or deal with the underlying causes of our difficulties. This means that managing stress--even when we do it well--CAN CAUSE MANY OF OUR PROBLEMS TO PERSIST OR EVEN GET WORSE! Since we never correct the root causes of our problems, they will continue to occur, over and over again."
I'm certainly not advocating that you abandon all coping strategies you have discovered to de-clutter, de-stress, and simplify your life. Techniques to improve time management, communication skills to enhance relationships, and other self-help strategies can add value to your life. But, human doing can never be enough to satisfy human being. You are a human being, and you must decide to focus on inner person change as the core solution to lifting the heavy burden of unpleasant stress. The person you were created to be is awaiting the freedom inspired by self-acceptance, self-confidence, and a value-filled self-concept.
God offers us the unconditional love our hearts so desperately crave. Total acceptance, validation, and affirmation of our value as human beings is available to us by choosing to receive it from Him. Wheher we yield to God's help or not, the only way to avoid excess stress is to examine our hearts to find the roots of bitterness that grow into destruction. Where I live, we are once again at the beginning of the growing season. We plants the seeds and hope the produce healthy plants for an abundant harvest. But, inevitably, the weeds seem to greow faster than the good plants. Weeds must be pulled, but they keep growing back. They must be pulled again and again, so the good plants stay healthy. Like the growing of a fruitful vegetable garden, the weeds of our inner person must be pulled on a regular basis.
So, when you feel physical or emotional pain, stop and take a brief inventory of your problem circumstances. Be honest with yourself to discover the loss, disappointment, failed expectations (imposed on self or by others), critical judgments, or false beliefs causing the pressure. Read some of my other articles on how to change from the inside out. It's often the closest people in your life who you feel the most toxic feelings towards. Discern what you can do to change yourself, stop blaming circumstances or other people for the unpleasant stress you feel, and begin the journey to stress-free living.
Note1: Please note that "chronic stress" is not what I am talking about in the article. If you have experienced a traumatic event, or are living in very difficult circumstances for a long period of time, you should seek the help of a counselor to figure out what "normal" might look like.
Note2: A book I authored Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses truth for dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom through forgiveness (from a Christian perspective). See more info. by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm .
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry