Monday, 9am, meeting with Jeff. Jeff talks about how stressed he is. It seems his company recently had a round of layoffs and now there is a strong rumour circulating throughout the organization that round 2 is about to begin.
Jeff tells me the uncertainty of not knowing whether he will survive the rumoured layoffs is keeping him awake at night; he is experiencing relentless headaches and is “stressed to the max.”
Tuesday, 9am, meeting with Greg. Greg talks about how stressed he is. It seems that he and his wife are fighting constantly about everything. Money. Kids. In-laws. Paint colours. There is no end to it. He can’t do anything right and he is “stressed to the max.”
Wednesday, 9am, meeting with Rosalynn. Rosalynn talks about how stressed she is. It seems her boss is a world class #$$%&*e. He is on her case about everything. He has no respect for boundaries and thinks nothing of keeping her at work well into the evenings and emailing assignments on weekends with the expectation that they will be completed before Monday and she is “stressed to the max.”
Thursday, 9am, meeting with Cheryl. Cheryl talks about how stressed she is. She has an appointment in the afternoon with an oncologist to review her test results. She is terrified. Her aunt died of cancer and she is “stressed to the max.”
Friday, 9am, no meeting scheduled. Just me, alone. I want to talk about how stressed I am. There’s no-one there to listen and that stressed me out. I’m “stressed to the max.”
Earlier this week I went with my wife Gimalle, a retired police officer to the funeral of a fellow cop she had known for many years. This was one of many, many police funerals we have attended, almost all people in their late forties and early fifties who had died within just a few short years of retiring from their police careers.
Naturally the conversation turned to the number of premature deaths among this close knit community with the general consensus being the “stress of the job” played a key role in these early deaths.
So what is this stress stuff that seems to be so pervasive in our society?
The experts tell us that stress is the effect we feel from the accumulated pressures of life’s non-stop challenges.
And that type of stress is bad for us.
It affects out health adversely.
It raises our blood pressure.
It eats away at us.
Sometimes it kills us.
And I have a theory.
Wanna hear it?
Ok, here goes.
It doesn’t exist.
We create it.
It is self inflicted.
We do it to ourselves.
Why would we do that, you ask?
Because we have taught ourselves, and been taught by life itself, to believe that stress is the only available, and normal, response to adverse pressure and that we have no choice other than to embrace it.
And I believe that ain’t so.
I believe that we take one event (Jeff’s concern about his job) and another occurrence (Jeff’s stress) and treat them as if there is a connection. These are unrelated events that Jeff has connected as if there was a cause and effect model at play.
In other words Jeff connected these two things as if his job concerns are causing his stress.
They have nothing to do with each other. They are unrelated.
The stress Jeff is feeling is not being caused by his worry over a potential job loss, the stress is caused by the MEANING Jeff is giving to his potential job loss.
And that meaning is something that Jeff chose.
From among many other choices.
Instead of stress Jeff could have chosen this looming job loss to mean an exciting opportunity to discover new possibilities or a challenge to be overcome or a chance to find an employer that would really value him and the talent/skills and intellect he brings or a time to sit back and watch a few sun rises while contemplating a different future or any other of the infinite number of positive choices available to him, had he explored their possibility, that would have filled him with a strong, optimistic sense of purpose.
Instead he chose this possibility to mean worry and fear and concern and panic and a whole slew of self damaging emotions which he lumped together and called stress.
He didn’t have to do that.
Nor did Greg or Rosalynn or Cheryl.
You see Jeff’s situation is what it is. And he may well have no control over it.
And that’s true for all of us.
A situation is what it is.
Whether we love it, hate it or anything in the middle.
And often we can’t control it.
But we can, and do, always control its meaning.
And by so doing we choose the impact it has on us.
So we choose our own stress.
Do you agree?
Because if you don’t, don’t tell me.
I’m already stressed to the max.
Till we read again.