What is stress? It is the tension
which arises as a psychological and physiological response to a
challenge. (Two definitions: "stressors" are the situations that
trigger stress; "stress" is our reaction.)
Stress can be
pleasant or unpleasant. We usually consider stress to be an
unpleasant condition, but it is necessary -- and it can even be
The positive aspects of stress.
Stress stimulates us physically and psychologically. We all
seek stress in various ways -- perhaps through a challenging
job, exhilarating relationships, competitive games, exciting
television programs, dangerous sports, difficult hobbies,
vacations to exotic locales, social events where we meet new
people, fast cars, roller coasters, horror movies, any activity
which causes the body's release of adrenaline and endorphin,
provocative conversations, etc. Without stress, we would be
bored, dull, and depressed.
Stress is necessary for the physical body. Stress is
displayed in muscle tone, muscle contractions (including those
of the heart and lungs), and the structural bonds which
literally hold the body together. Without stress, we would be
Stress is our experience of the energy of life itself.
Stress is energy in its natural state of suspension between
material objects (including people and physical objects) as
they work toward resolution (i.e., discharge of the energy from
the high-charged object to the low-charged object). Thus, the
dynamic of stress is actually the dynamic of the yinyang
Spirit "splits" into two complementary poles for the
purpose of manifestation in the dualistic worlds of
materiality. When the split occurs, energy is released; this
phenomenon is somewhat analogous to the release of energy
when an atom is split by atomic fission. However, the energy
is not dissipated (as in an "atomic bomb"); instead, it
remains suspended as a bond between the polarized objects,
e.g., yin and yang, worker and goal, hunter and food, "the
needer" and "the needed," and "any part of ourselves" and
"whatever that part wants." We experience this suspended
energy as stress.
The two polarized objects (which contain the
high-charged yang and the low-charged yin) are drawn back
together by the force of the energetic bond. We experience
this attraction in the form of motivation, creative
impulses, psychological drives (e.g., the ego's drive to
manifest a personal physical environment), physiological
drives (e.g., hunger, sexual tension, etc.), and the demands
of our various obligations (at work, at home, in our social
life, etc.), and so on.
When the polarized objects come into contact, they
exchange energy; i.e., they discharge energy into one
another. Thus, the stress is relieved, and we achieve a type
of wholeness; we even achieve a type of transcendence, as
the union of spirit's polarities grants us a brief
experience of spirit itself. Depending upon the type of
polarities which resolve their charge, we might experience
this completion in various forms: happiness, joy, relief,
satisfaction, delight, sexual orgasm, etc.
The negative aspects of stress.
Severe, unrelenting stress can cause physical fatigue and
illness. In a fast-paced society, stress is responsible for
We might be unsuccessful in finding a productive means by
which to satisfy our need for stress. Instead, we achieve the
stimulation through destructive means: recreational
drugs, emotionalism (perhaps expressed in the form of
arguments), and fighting (in bar-room brawls, or in our living
room when our restless kids are confined inside on a rainy
We experience stress in the form of desire and attachment.
In eastern religions, desire and attachment are given a
negative valuation -- but they are merely the dynamics by which
the stress of the yinyang polarization draws the opposites
toward one another for their spiritual re-uniting.
for managing stress. In "stress management," we do not try to
eliminate stress (which is a necessary part of life); instead,
we try to regulate the amount of it so that we are stimulated but not
Self-talk. For example: "I enjoy stimulation and I enjoy
relaxation." "I accept my body's need for rest." "I can manage
the challenges of my life." "I respect the cycles of activity
Directed imagination. We can visualize ourselves being
relaxed in various situations which would usually be
excessively stressful. Or we can visualize a peaceful scene,
e.g., a calm riverbank.
Energy toning. We can implant the energy tones of serenity,
confidence, composure, poise, contentment, optimism, etc.
The "as if" principle. We can act as if we are calm in
We can develop our awareness of intuition. Intuition can give
us many types of information: a valuation of situations (so that
we know whether it is worthy of a stressful confrontation at all),
instructions for managing challenges, an awareness of our need for
stress (so that we acquire an adequate amount, but not an
excessive amount), a discernment of the tasks which are
ours to perform versus the tasks which we can surrender trustingly
to life (i.e., spirit), etc.
We can accept stress as a part of life. In contrast, if we
desire a stress-free life, we cause additional stress
because we fear and avoid life's conflicts, and we react with the
added complications of anger and indignation whenever the
inevitable difficulties occur.
We can question our habitual responses to stressors. For
example, when we are preparing for a blind date, one person might
experience fear and worry while the other person experiences
excitement and the anticipation of pleasure. Regardless of our
traditional view that a particular circumstance should cause a
particular amount of stress (or a particular type of
stress), we are free to experience the stress in any way which
pleases us. Our "experience" depends upon many factors, including
the self-talk and imagery which we apply to the upcoming event.
We can take an active approach to our problems. Stress is the
energy in any unresolved situation, i.e., any "problem." The
stress increases if we feel powerless and inundated.
Therefore, we can reduce stress by using problem-solving skills,
taking direct action, making decisions, being assertive, getting
information which might lead to a resolution, setting goals and
priorities, being well-organized, using time management, and
enhancing the situation's required skills (e.g., job skills,
computer skills, conversational skills, etc.).
We can increase our ability to relax. And we can take "breaks"
throughout the day. The break might be a walk, a hobby, a visit to
a museum or park, a vacation (even if it's only one day), a
massage, a full night's sleep, a five-minute visualization of a
peaceful place, or another diversion. During this time, we are
recharging from the strain of stress.
We can question our goals. If we have too much stress in our
life, we might have adopted too many material challenges. To
decrease the stress, we can reduce the magnitude of some of our
goals (particularly if they are perfectionistic or unnecessarily
competitive), and we can eliminate some of our other goals.
Happiness does not come from the attainment of goals; it comes
from the savoring of whatever we have acquired, so there is
no reason to stockpile goods for which we do not have the time and
the relaxed state for "savoring."
We can alter the amount of "change." Stress is increased when
we need to meet new challenges when our regular routine is changed
(for better or for worse). If we feel overwhelmed by the changes
and the stress, we can counteract the problem by retreating to
familiar places, hobbies, music, and friends. And when we feel
underwhelmed, we can seek novelty, innovation, and
We can exercise to reduce stress. Exercise reduces
physiological stress in the form of muscle tension. And exercise
can reduce psychological stress by diverting our attention
from our complex intellectualizing to the simple, non-verbal
basics of our body; it is a healthful form of escape.
We can remove stressors from our environment. Those stressors
include noise, bad lighting, disagreeable odors, an unpleasant
view, insufficient privacy, and uncomfortable humidity or
We can use this assortment of ideas:
We can express our emotions. Emotional tension is released
when we laugh, cry, sing, dance, etc.
We can improve our nutrition. The body becomes
over-stimulated if we have a diet of sugar, alcohol, and
We can consume less caffeine in the form of tea, coffee,
We can maintain proper posture. If we slump, we create
stress throughout the spine.
We can get a pet. Our stress is reduced when we play with a
pet. (However, a pet might cause stress, if it tends to be very
demanding, noisy, or destructive.)
We can spend some time alone.
We can distract ourselves from our dilemmas by helping
other people (on a one-to-one basis or through group volunteer
work). Or, if we are stressing ourselves by doing too much for
others at our expense, we can cut back on the helpfulness and
instead take care of our own needs.
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