Stop Avoiding Stress
Try Not to Avoid Stress
whereas constantly challenging ourselves and embracing our stress in full is the price of admission to a truly enjoyable and fulfilling life!
stress is not the ‘root’ cause of anything
Even the most well intentioned individuals often give bad advice. This happens a lot when it comes to the subject of stress. There is quite a bit of real concern nowadays about how stress can negatively impact our overall health and wellbeing. In fact, the inflammatory effects of stress may be the leading cause of nearly every major disease that we are familiar with today (ref). There is even some evidence that roughly 90 percent of all physician visits are due to stress related issues (ref). While that may sound hard to believe, it is important tokeep in mind that stress exists in many different forms. Stress can be a result of a poor diet, poor lifestyle choices, physical trauma, or exposure to industrial and agricultural chemicals (dioxins, pesticides, herbicides, PCB’s, BPA, methyl mercury, aromatic poly hydrocarbons, and so on). These are the kinds of stress that we should work to avoid by simply making healthier choices and taking good care of ourselves. On the other hand our emotional stress plays a key role in our entire being and whether we like it or not, it’s unavoidable. Unlike the stress of a poor diet or sedentary lifestyle, our emotional stress is not inherently dangerous. However, it can indeed become harmful and this of course depends on ‘us’ and the way in which we manage ourselves internally. The mistake that I believe most of are making is actually very simple, yet can be very destructive. Let’s look at why you should never avoid your own stress!
life is stress
Stress often is misjudged as merely a biological mechanism which is designed to help us deal with threatening or deadly situations. Stress is just this and more. It’s the main ”get up and go” driver in our daily lives. Aside from keeping us alive, stress also give us the drive and motivation for embracing life’s challenges. It also gives us the capacity to experience thrill, excitement and even joy (ref)! And the only reason for our constant ‘sense of urgency’ is our anxiety surrounding the knowledge of our inevitable death. In other words, stress is the icing on the cake, the flavor that makes life meaningful. To remove it entirely would make this whole experience mundane and extremely boring. There would be zero reason to crawl out of bed or even lift so much as a finger if it weren’t for our faithful ally. Fortunately, stress is an inevitable aspect of life. And since most of life’s value comes from our own experiences with stress, I think it’s fair to say that life is stress. So why the hell do so many of us try to avoid it?
reevaluating the nature of stress
I believe that our ‘stress related’ issues are a result of two things that have nothing to do with stress at all. The first being our misconceptions of stress and some emotions that come with it. In general our society has become extremely partial towards ideas and situations that provide immediate comfort and satisfaction. So much so, that we often neglect any emotion or feeling that conflicts with our pursuit towards the pleasurable modalities of modern living. As a result things like discomfort, hard work, challenging ourselves, and delayed gratification are pushed aside because they don’t offer the immediate satisfaction many of us are accustomed to. We also deem our unpleasant feelings as ‘negative’ and rather than just putting our conveniences aside to deal with them we instead put forth every effort to ignore and bury them. In order to accommodate these preferences, we adjust our lifestyle in a way that supports rewards within our zone of comfort. This in turn places a huge limitation on what we are able to experience during our lifetime. This is where we get to the second issue.
Many of us live in a a self limiting fashion, perhaps without even realizing it. For example, whenever we whip out our phones during an awkward silence or uncomfortable social setting, it’s only because we are trying to avoid any potential moments of discomfort or stress. Even though glaring at our cell phone won’t satisfy our deep need for social connection, it will ‘protect’ us from risking any temporary discomfort. The problem is that in order to experience true meaning and fulfillment in life, we need to be willing to embrace our pain as much as we do our pleasure. This applies to pretty much every aspect within our lives. In the case of interacting socially, when we use our smart phone as a means of distraction we are denying ourselves the rewards of being social. Sure it can sometimes feel awkward or nerve wracking to engage in a friendly conversation with someone we don’t know. But putting ourselves at risk for the occasional awkward moment is what opens the door to meeting new people and discovering new relationships. The same is true when we don’t push ourselves professionally, if we aren’t willing to take on more work and responsibility then we shouldn’t be surprised when we never see any economic growth for ourselves. To quickly summarize, by avoiding the discomfort of our own stress we diminish our potential for life experience. But if we let go of our comfort then we can begin living!
stress is neither good or bad
Stress plays a constant and major role within our lives and it doesn’t always feel good, nor does it always feel bad. Take dating for example, the act of asking someone if they’d like to go out can be very uncomfortable and nerve wracking for many of us. But when someone says ‘yes!’ that stress all of the sudden feels good in the form of thrill and excitement. At times stress is the zest and ecstasy of life, other times it’s a painful driver to get us up and moving. Funny enough, the more we can embrace it’s unpleasant side the better we become at handling our own stress (that’s called growth!). On the other hand the more we try to avoid it’s unpleasantness the harder it becomes for us to deal with (that’s called stalemate…). Stress is neither good or bad, it simply just is. It is our emotional ally, designed to help us move forward and grow. Even when our stress may be deeply unpleasant it does not mean us any harm. But in order to benefit from our stress we need to work with it. Therefore, it doesn’t actually make any sense to either bury or shame our unpleasant feelings. Doing that only makes matters worse and it’s the opposite which is embracing our emotions that creates a peaceful harmony within. The sooner we do that, the better! So where to we begin?
stop avoiding stress
Whenever we try to avoid stress we only end up creating bigger problems for ourselves. Avoiding our emotional stress is like skipping a credit card payment, overtime those unresolved emotions accrue ‘interest’ and become much more painful to deal with. Post traumatic stress disorder is an extreme example of this. PTSD is a very common problem in not only war veterans but also victims of child abuse.
the importance of sticking to our values
Everyone has values and they differ from person to person. They are also likely to change throughout our lives. When we are younger our values may be allocated to doing well in school or learning to how engage socially. When we are older our values may have more do with achieving professional success or finding a spouse and starting our own family. These are just a few common examples, but regardless of whatever our values may be, stress plays a major role in helping us stick to them. For example, finding a spouse or romantic partner is a value that almost all of us have. However, we typically have to ‘shop around’ before we find that right person and the dating game is an often stressful and challenging experience. The chemicals of stress play an important role in giving us the drive and motivation to push through all the rejection and heartbreak until we are successful in finding that special someone. However, even though stress is trying to push us outside of our comfort zone we also need to be consciously willing to go along with it. Still, many of us don’t want to experience that discomfort so we end up remaining solo even though deep down we still value having someone else in our lives. Sure we may be avoiding a wrench thrown into our comfort zone, but the emotional urge to stick to our values isn’t going away. Even though we may feel perfectly okay from time to time, that deep urge to pursue one of our values will always be looming in the back of our minds. The only way to avoid this is by embracing our stress in full, whether it’s feels good or not. It can help to see stress not as our enemy, but rather our reason for giving a damn!
accept the pain as much as the pleasure
Like I’ve been saying stress varies widely in how it feels at any given time. It’s easy to assume that stress is only felt as unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, severe frustration, and anger. When in fact, it’s also experienced during moments of excitement, heightened arousal, ecstasy, and believe it or not, joy! When we are awake there will be a degree of stress within the body, even when we don’t realize it. Stress is both the pleasure and the pain of life and it’s also the driving force behind everything we do. Therefore we need to give ourselves permission to experience it in full. It’s not rocket science, ‘suffering in silence’ and ignoring our stress is extremely bad for our health. Denying ourselves the opportunity to step outside of our comfort zone leads to an unhappy life. Whereas constantly challenging ourselves and embracing our stress in full is the price of admission to a truly enjoyable and fulfilling life!
a simple parable
Stress is the fertilizer for individual growth! In order to achieve growth, we have to first go through the crap. It’s just like how tomato seeds have to go through literal crap (manure) before they are able to grow into a flourishing tomato plant. By absorbing all of that nutrition from nature’s fertilizer (animal crap!), those tiny little seeds transform into a bushel of beautiful juicy red tomatoes! For people, the difficult times and struggle is our fertilizer for personal growth. While it may be unpleasant, it is also the doorway to that stronger version of ourselves ! So embrace it!