Stress is commonly considered a negative part of life. It happens to all of us. It’s an “occupational hazard” for some. It seems inevitable, and it is harmful to both physical and mental health. It is, according to popular use of the term, an enormous, inescapable burden. We need stress management training to cope.
This is not the entire picture, however. Stress is not the burden itself. The burden is a stressor. Stress is the body’s reaction to that stressor. There are two kinds of stress. Stress that is triggered by positive emotions or events is called “eustress”. Stress that is triggered by negative emotions or events is called “distress”. Both call for stress management, but in different ways.
Stress Management of Eustress
Eustress, when managed properly, can greatly improve physical and emotional health. Look at this example.
Imagine a couple who are in a wonderful relationship. Both know they will eventually marry, and they relax in the certainty of it. Then, one day, the man formally proposes marriage. Positive emotions are triggered, and the woman begins to cry in joy. She is so happy that, for several days, her eyes well with tears at the slightest thought of her bridegroom-to-be. She is happy, energetic, and seems to need little sleep. She runs on ‘nervous energy’. Gradually, dark circles appear under her eyes. She begins to lose weight. Her immunity seems to be decreased. Why?
The woman’s body is reacting to the eustress of the proposal. If stress management of this eustress is not employed, the woman will become emotionally and/or physically ill.
Stress management of her eustress begins with recognition that a marriage proposal can be a stressor. Stress management continues with a commitment to regular, happy exercise and proper diet. In the midst of her happiness, the bride-to-be will do well to take time for peaceful relaxation, listening to calm music and breathing deeply.
Stress Management of Distress
Distress will also bow to stress management, and allow us to maintain or regain physical and emotional strength. Think about this example.
Picture an accountant working at his desk. He has opened a complex spreadsheet on his computer, and is trying to prepare for a tax audit. As he wrestles with a strange journal entry, the boss walks in and asks to see payroll records for the past month. Our accountant turns to his file, but stops as the phone rings. His wife is asking something about her mother’s upcoming visit. He tries to listen as he digs into the file drawer, but the boss asks another question. He swivels his chair back toward the boss, and knocks a mug of coffee to the floor. His wife shouts through the phone.
None of this is stress. But when the accountant’s body reacts, it will be stress. When he shouts back at his wife, a vein popping out on his neck, it will be distress, and will call for stress management. When he kicks the coffee mug across the floor, it will call for stress management. When he begins to perspire, and his face flushes red, it is time for stress management.
Again, the first step is to identify the stressor. In this case, there are several stressors. The upcoming tax audit is making unusual demands on the accountant. The boss’ request in the midst of the audit preparation is an additional demand. Stack on top of that his wife’s phone call, the boss’ second request, and the spilled coffee. Each stressor must be identified for stress management to begin.
The second step in stress management of distress is to list things one may be able to change. The wife may agree not to call the office until after the tax audit. Since the box may be less easily controlled, the accountant may want to engage in stress management that controls his own emotions instead.
Most of all, stress management will call for the accountant to reduce the intensity of his emotional and physical reactions to stressors. The body is designed to react to circumstances that are of a dangerous nature. We need to learn not to exaggerate situations such as the above to the level of danger.