How to Handle Stress

"In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes," is a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin. I suspect I am not the first to disagree. I believe the only certainty during life is that things will change.

Each day our lives are filled with change. Some are dramatic: a diagnosis of a life-threatening disease, the sudden loss of an important relationship, an injury that forces adjustment to daily living, or equipment that breaks down at a critical moment.

Others are more subtle: daylight increases or decreases, an appointment takes longer than expected, clothing is tighter or looser, or we become aware that recovery from illness or injury is slower than it used to be.

Last, but not least, are the changes we choose: moving to a different home, remodeling a kitchen, or embarking on a second or third career.

These events, whether positive or negative, are "stressors." They trigger conscious and unconscious thoughts, emotions, feelings and, subsequently, behavior. Your response, which is based on an inner belief you may or may not be aware of, can be healthy—taking a walk, meditating, scheduling a massage, or visiting a counselor. It can also be unhealthy—overeating, obsessing, becoming self-deprecating, or isolating yourself.

The process of becoming aware of how we get from the trigger to the behavior is actually quite simple. Inner beliefs, sometimes called values, are typically acquired in childhood or as the result of life experiences. If we value health our inner belief may be that without health our life has no meaning.

A sudden, severe, chronic illness might trigger the awareness or thought that life will never be the same. That thought triggers an emotion such as anger or fear or a feeling of despondency and then a behavior to ease the tension.

  • Stress
  • Inner Belief
  • Thought
  • Emotion/Feeling
  • Behavior

Sara's life was predicated on the belief that without good health life has no meaning. Last year Sara was in a traffic accident and sustained a serious injury that didn't heal as expected. Her active lifestyle was seriously compromised. Instead of daily visits to the gym, cycling, and weekend walking events, Sara was relegated to less vigorous activities.

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