August 31, 2008
I haven’t had a lot of time to blog this week but one thing that’s going around in my mind is “stress” management and how that actually works? I’m thinking that before you get there you may need to engage in some “dis-stress” management which is really what people present with and then maybe you get to “de-stress” management….But “stress” management..I don’t know…I don’t think I’ve ever been useful helping anyone to manage stress…live with it yes, manage it? I don’t know…any thoughts anyone?
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You are right. I’ve had many arguments with clients about how if only they could control their stress, they’d be happier.
I know of only a few main methods of dealing with stress:
1. Removing or limiting the causes.
2. Changing your response to stress.
3. Change your behaviour.
Each of these ignore the stress and deal with de-stress, di-stress and maybe un-stress… ;p
It’s almost impossible to limit or change (ie control) the stress you’re under just via will power alone.
You’re already habituated to respond in a way that causes you the stress. Trying to change that while under stress is near impossible. As a metaphorical example, it’s really hard to teach someone to drive a car differently when they are already driving. Get out of the stressful environment or pattern and it becomes possible to retrain yourself for better, more relaxed and less stressful results.
I’m toying with the idea that high stress is partially a symptom of low self accceptance, while low stress shows high self acceptance.
This is more of a long term (days, weeks, months etc.) view than the short term adrenaline inspired flight or fight stresses…
What about you?
Bruce – interesting point about self acceptance…I’m more inclined to think two things – one, that stress occurs in relationship and is connected to our socially negotiated indicators of what is acceptable and not – within that our sense of ‘self’ acceptance is always linked to how that social contract is negotiated and two, that stress is also linked to ideas of success and failure in organisations and again, I’m not sure those ideals are always within our individual gift to remedy …(thinking out loud here as I’m writing this…). I think the ‘self’ piece is an awareness of how we ‘volunteer’ for stress i.e. our family of origin story and how we sometimes unconsciously take on notions of success and remedy in the service of the family/organisation ideal…what do you think?
One way I understand stress is the bioligical definition of stress arising when an organism experiences an environment or challenge that it has no known response to. I resonate with the idea that it is the sense of not being able to respond, and therefore the helplessness/powerlessness that creates the experience of stress at its most harmful. This is my own experience of my stress. The question for me, when someone reports stress as something they want to do something about, is to look at what they can control when there is a lot that they often can’t. When I feel overwhelmed I look for what I can control, even it is only how I choose to feel about the situation.
Jeremy – how do you work at that boundary – the one between what I can and what I cannot control?
I work at the boundary by paying attention to the smallest levels that I can control when feeling stressed and working up from there. I do the same with clients who report stress.
For instance, I am trying to build a house and a business at the moment. This has the potential on a daily basis to overwhelm and stress me.
It is a situation that I don’t have a historical experience to prepare me for, or any comparable experiences from which I could have developed a learned response for how to cope with it.
When I am rested and feeling in good shape I feel more in control and able to manage demands on me.
However, when I am tired or run down then I am more prone to feeling unable to manage and stressed. At these times I look for what I can control and move my attention away from all the things I can’t control and onto the next minute and hour. That way I can reduce the pressure from the list of all the things that need doing by moving my attention and focus to what I am doing next. Right now I am writing this email to you, when I finish I will turn to the next thing. This is what I can control, what I do now and next and what I choose to pay attention to.
I know that doing this I am doing the best I can and what is outstanding will be addressed when I can get to it. When pressure and stress become intense and I struggle to achieve the above, then I use the gestalt zones of awareness exercise to bring my attention back to the present physical sensations of my body.
I don’t think that it is any one particular way of doing this that matters. What matters is that a pattern of stress changes from being something over which I feel I have no control to something that I can get some perspective on and distance from. ‘This stress is something that I am experiencing, it has a beginning and it will have an an end -what can I do within this pattern to exert some influence over how I experience it and what impact it has on me?’
This gives me the opportunity to move from being, metaphorically, strapped to the bonnet of the car (that is my life) to getting more behind the wheel more of the time.
In terms of working with clients, I am always interested in their unique experience of stress as well as their specific history of stress in their lives, as well as the behavioural patterns and reflexes that have thereby been set up in them. Sometimes, simply identifying this information with a client changes their experience of stress in their lives.
It is not unusual to learn that a client in fact re-creates stress in their lives in order to maintain an experience that is important to them for some reason, even if they do so subconsciously and the impact is detrimental to their current health and well being.
Krista Tippett of the American Public Radio program Speaking of Faith just did a program called Stress and the Balance Within. it’s available to listen or download, speakingoffaith.org I think is the main address. you might find it interesting. conversation with a medical doctor on physical and emotional stress.
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