Reality Check: Try a Different Stress Model?

Stress. Everybody’s had it. Yet some people seem to manage—or even thrive—in stressful environments, whereas others can barely cope.

There are plenty of possible explanations for these differences: genetics, upbringing, experience, training, and so on. We don’t have control over many of those factors.

However, we can control one factor—how we think about our stress.

For example, let’s say that for whatever reason, your stress level has skyrocketed. There are different “models” you can choose to use as you think about it.

One model is: “My stress level has increased rapidly in a short time. Now I am scared that it will continue to get worse at this rate, and ultimately I will explode! (or break down, or use some other stress-releasing behaviour.)”

Doesn’t sound very sustainable, does it? However, that’s just one way of looking at the possibilities.

Here’s a different model: “My stress level has increased rapidly, but I am still able to function. In fact, I have begun to adapt to it. The more I learn to adapt, the more accustomed I become to handling these demands. Even if my stressors don’t go away, my ability to handle them will increase, so ultimately my stress level will go down.”

Does that sound like a more effective approach? Some folks may perceive it as excessively optimistic, so let’s try a third model.

In this model: “My stress level has increased rapidly, but I can function with this level of stress. As long as I am exposed to these stressors, I will likely stay at this stress level—no more stressed, but no more relaxed, either. I know that I can handle this stress because I am currently doing so. Thus, I will continue on as best I can until either I change the stressors or they go away because of factors outside my control.”

So, the models I’m suggesting are: my stress level will go up, my stress level will go down, or my stress will level off.

Which is the most helpful model for you to use when thinking about your stress? It’s your choice.

Keep in mind that the anticipation and fear of future stress is stressful in itself. Ask, does expecting future stress help me? Or hurt me? As usual, there’s no right answer.

If you use that anticipation and your creative imagination to prepare and reduce your future stress, then perhaps it’s helpful. However, if your anticipation only results in sleepless nights, running round in circles and worrying, then perhaps not so much.

Any kind of anticipation takes us away from focusing completely on what we are doing at the present moment, right now. Focusing on being in the present, rather than projecting into the future, is another helpful defense against stress.

Experience is helpful too. If you’ve ever gone through a stressful experience and emerged stronger, you know that sometimes we are surprised by our own capabilities. Recognizing that you have emerged triumphant (or at least unscathed) from previous stresses can provide strength and resilience when going into a new stressful time.

Are different models of thinking about stress helpful for you?

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