Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stress Kills

This is going to sound like a major “duh, well yeah.”  

I came to the conclusion this morning that I really do not like stress.  Not at all.  Not one little bit.

My favorite definition of stress is an old and humorous one:

Stress is the most unnatural suppression of the most natural urge to choke the living shit out of some asshole that desperately deserves it.
OK, I might have left out the profanity and violent suggestion thereby making the definition more politically correct, but the profanity and violence really does drive the point home.  Stress is the churning up of emotions and feelings until they cross from mind to body causing the adrenaline to be released but where there is no real fight or flight option to dissipate the adrenaline.  The result is tension, aggravation, anxiety, and physical discomfort.  

The Merriam-Webster definition is: 
A physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stress

Prolonged stress can may manifest itself in an illness.  General lore seems to link it to hypertension and heart attacks.  Minimally, stress makes me sullen, irritable, or ornery.

Sure there are external causes of stress.  There are any number of political self-serving people that we are forced to deal with.  There are mean nasty folks that revel in creating situations in which others twist, turn, cringe, and suffer in the stress they induce.  There are overbearing bosses, family members, and friends that we have to deal with.  All of these, can and do cause stress.

I am writing this because I spent a stressful weekend dealing with some office politics which could have some bearing on my immediate future.  I hated the feeling and hated having the stress dominate my weekend.  As I mulled over who I ought to be strangling per the comic definition of stress, I came to realize that I was the culprit.  Me?  Causing my own stress?  Impossible!  

No very possible!

The best way I can illustrate how this is possible is by these very profound quotes that I also referenced in my October 2010 letter.  http://thissideoffifty.blogspot.com/2010/10/october-2010-motivational-quotes.html
  • I am not upset by events but rather by the way I view them. -  Epictetus
  • The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what we want for what we want at the moment. - Suprina Berenyi
    Most of the people that induce stress and stressful reactions are just being themselves.  Their behavior probably will not vary much if the same situation, the same set of circumstances, happened over and over again.  Why then must my reaction always be the same?  

    Epictetus is absolutely right.  People that divert stress the best have learned to deflect both the inane and self-serving behavior of others that causes stress.  If the external stimuli are not likely to change, the prudent person ought to adapt and change his or her ways so not to experience undo and unwelcome stress every time the stimuli is present.   Simple to say... harder to do.

    Suprina’s quote can also be changed slightly to apply to self-induced stress.  Constantly trading off what I supposedly want for what I want right now can be very stressful.  Watching it happen to day after day is quite stressful and truly ends up causing chronic unhappiness.  This exact dynamic is why Twelve Step Programs exist to help those truly addicted to this kind of behavior.

    Getting back to Epictetus, I must note that his name is not near the top of Greek philosophers.  Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle seem to have a much greater fan base.  Who was this fellow?  Again via the magic of the Worldwide Web, I can easily report that Epictetus was a stoic philosopher who lived from 55 -135 AD.  The crux of his beliefs were essentially in the quote referred to above and these few lines from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epictetus
    To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power.   
    I like the practical approach of Epictetus.  I really need to know what I can and cannot control.  He calls what cannot be controlled as fate.  I may call them random events or shocks.  Probably, we are in agreement that we cannot really truly control the actions of others.  Thus, I need to learn not to get stressed by these kinds of things.  

    Yet, there are things in my control.  If these things become the cause of stress, they are entirely on me.  I therefore would have to choke the living shit out of myself.  In the work environment, the actions and behaviors can be mitigated by the things I can control.  If I am proactive, control my numbers and results, and am always sharing these outputs, a lot of what others do to bend the truth in their direction is easily thwarted.   Beyond being proactive in dealing with others, I need to be very active in working for what I want and not trading that off for what I want right now.

    It is funny to note that Epictetus did spend some part of his childhood as a slave.  That had to have greatly influenced his philosophy.  There was a lot he did not have control over.  I would guess slaves do develop an accepting go with the flow attitude simply to keep from going insane.  While going with the flow, he probably also learned that if he was proactive and stayed ahead of his chores and out of the way of whoever might mean him harm, he would also be OK.  This sounds pretty darn stoic to me!

    There seems to be another approach and I alluded to it earlier.  Instead of being a major stress magnet, I could be a consummate stress inducer.  History is full of these kinds of characters.  I believe they are called despots and dictators.  Consider the stress that has been caused by the likes of Stalin, Castro, Hitler, and others.  By creating incredible stress in everyone else, I supposed these guys slept well.  But, this is not for me.  The only person I can consistently induce stress in seems to be myself.  

    I like the practical approach of Epictetus and Suprina.  I shall attempt to live more by this code.

    1 comment:

    1. I think "stress" will always be around. It's just the degree in which a person accepts this stress and how that person deals with it.

      Don Miguel Ruiz says, "Don't take, anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering."

      I am sure you will control your stress level. You have already started by recognizing what bothers you. Take charge of your life and be well.