Have you ever said the words, “This job/my life is so stressful!” Or something else along those lines?
Most people believe that stress is something that happens in their lives. They believe it is the result of outside circumstances beyond their control. We are stressed if our work is too difficult. We get stressed when people in our lives aren’t doing what we want them to do. We are stressed when it’s been too long since a vacation. We get stress over deaths, weddings, major purchases and a host of other things. We talk as if stress is something outside ourselves—a condition of things in our external environment. It’s not.
Health professionals will tell us that stress is a contributing factor in many physical ailments—heart attacks, asthma, high blood pressure, stroke and many others. There are several diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, the diagnostic tool of therapists and psychiatrists that describe many stress-related disorders. Stress is a killer. Have you ever wondered why some people seem to handle stress better than others do?
One individual may have all the life circumstances purported to cause stress in one’s life but seem to be just breezing through his or her day, seemingly without a care, while another person gets a flat tire on the way to work and has a total melt down. How can this be explained?
I intend to look at stress from a different perspective—a choice theory perspective.
According to Choice Theory, all behavior is purposeful. This means that no matter what we do it is a purposeful attempt to get something we want. We are never simply responding to outside stimuli.
You may ask, “What about when I flinch when I hear a loud noise?” The flinching is not a response to the noise, but rather your proactive way of staying safe. This may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but it is an important distinction to understand in this discussion of stress.
Let me give you another example. You may think you get mad at your child for not cleaning his or her room after you asked several times. It sure feels as if the anger is in direct response to your child’s behavior. However, your anger is actually your best attempt to get your child to do what you want. By displaying angry behavior, it is your belief that your child will go ahead and clean up his or her room. Any behavior or emotion we employ is a proactive, sometimes conscious sometimes not, attempt to get something we want, not a response to external stimuli.
The same is true for stress. We are choosing stress as a proactive attempt to get something we want. This choice is almost never conscious, but I want it to become conscious for you. Once it is conscious, then you have the power to choose to do it differently if you so desire.
Since all behavior is purposeful, it helps to understand what possible benefits or purposes one could achieve by stressing. Who would ever choose that behavior for any benefit?
I say stressing can be motivating. Many of us perform at our peak level when we have that adrenalin rush moving through our veins. Anyone who has ever waited until the last minute to study for a test or complete a project knows what I’m talking about here.
Stressing can also be a way of telling others they better back off. I know when I felt stress, it was my unconscious goal to let my boss know she had better not ask me to do one more thing or I just might lose it! I would send out signals of overwhelm—lots of sighing, threatening looks, irritability, loss of humor. I have to admit that since I didn’t do it very often, it was quite effective. Whenever I was stressed, my boss generally left me alone to do my work.
Stressing can also get us the help we need. When the message is out there, others may rally around us to support us. People may actually offer to do some things for us so we can reduce the overwhelm.
Another possible benefit is that stressing can provide us with recognition. People may say, “Wow, look at _____________. I don’t know how he/she gets all that done. It’s amazing!” There are some who appreciate this positive recognition.
One final thought on stressing benefits. . . When we stress long enough, we may develop physical symptoms. In Choice Theory, Dr. Glasser tells us that are behavior is total, meaning it is comprised of four inseparable component—the action, our thoughts, our feelings and the physiology of our body or whatever our body is doing at that moment. When we don’t take care of managing our stress levels, our physiology takes over and creates physical symptoms for us. Now remember, I said all behavior is purposeful and physiology is a part of the total behavior. Do you understand the purpose of the physical symptoms that accompany prolonged stress? Of course, it is our body’s way of telling us we have to stop or slow down. It produces the physical symptoms that are hard to ignore. When we attend to them, we get the rest we need and therefore reduce the stress. Can you see how all behavior is purposeful?
If you are experiencing the effects of stress in your life, I am not suggesting that you are to blame. What I am saying is that up until this point, you have been doing absolutely the best you know how, consciously or unconsciously to get something you want by stressing. If you can pinpoint what the benefit(s) of stress is/are to you, then you can look at ways to get what you need without having to stress.