Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stress reduction or increasing tolerance

Stress is ubiquitous. Some have even proposed that a certain amount of stress makes life – living – possible. At Stress.org The American Institute of Stress states it is “Dedicated to advancing our understanding of: the role of stress in health and illness…” So if we accept that everybody experiences stress and that perhaps some types of stress can be beneficial; how do we deal with stress that is either unhealthy or having a negative impact on our lives?

According to Richard Carlson, Ph.D. and author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and its all small stuff (Hyperion, 1997) we tend to choose to deal with stress by increasing our tolerance for it rather than reducing it. On page 53, Dr. Carlson asks the question in the title of reading number 19: “What is your tolerance for stress?” He says “We tend to look up to people who are under a great deal of stress, who can handle loads of stress, and those who are under a great deal of pressure.”

So, if someone thinks they have too much stress in their life that is not having a healthy impact on their life, can anything be done about it since everybody around them is likely to be overly stressed as well? Dr. Carlson says it is common for people to enroll in some type of stress-management program; but he cautions that some stress management programs may focus on increasing tolerance for stress instead of reducing stress and stressors.

His statement sounds almost contorted. A person is becoming overwhelmed by their stress level so they attend a stress management program, ostensibly to reduce their stress to a manageable level, and are actually taught how to make their current level look smaller which results in them “having room” to absorb more stress. But isn’t that what we do to ourselves? We decide we are maxed-out on stress until an emergency comes along that persuades us we don’t have it that tough and we take on more stuff. This, however, is America and we major in crisis every day as a way of life and often we never “stand down” until a crash forces us to do so.

Stress can take many forms such as physical, time, mental, psychological, relational, and emotional/spiritual; and often can be compounded or blended. If you want to reduce stress/stressors that are having a negative impact on your life, before you crash, what can you do? These two sources and many others have a lot of ideas and information of course but really anybody can start with five simple, but not necessarily easy, steps.

1) Awareness – just start noticing, taking note of, when you are stressed and the circumstances.

2) Choose – make a decision to reduce stressors and your tolerance for stress.

3) Just say “no” – firmly resolve to break the habit of absorbing stress.

4) Resist – caving to criticism about reducing stress and lowering stress tolerance.

5) Persist – just do it; other people’s unhealthy choices are none of your business.

Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement of either source. Readers should evaluate the contents and appropriateness of this information for their own circumstances with a trusted professional.

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