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Rethinking Stress

Don't Manage Your Stress - Quit Creating It

As far as I'm concerned most stress seminars are goofy. First of all they speak of stress as if it exists out there in the world, like a dog. You want to learn how to manage your dog, right? So let's manage our stress. Wrong. 


I've heard so many speakers say that the only people who don't have stress are dead people. I've seen people actually write that down in their notebook - "Dead people don't. . . " How dumb is that. It's also dangerous. If you're feeling out of control and overwhelmed by "stress" and you keep hearing that dead people don't have stress, well then what might be the next step. Get to be dead! 


One thing that these stress seminars like to do is give a "stress test." I'm not talking a treadmill kind of thing. This is a paper and pencil test with a lot of life events each of which has been assigned a stress number. If you get a certain total from the test you can find out how stressed out you are. Let me tell you right now that events don't have stress levels. For example some people would rather face death than do public speaking while others love to do public speaking. So is public speaking a 200 points stressor? I don't think so. The way we look at the event gives it its power. 


Think about it. Have any of you ever handled the same situation at two different times and one time you handled it like a champ and another time like a maniac. Do you have kids? They spill something all over the floor and one time you're like Mister Rogers, cool and helpful, "Can we spell disaster?"  The next time you are Attila the Hun. "Can't you get through one meal without spilling something." 


The test doesn't differentiate. In fact one item that I always get a kick out of is divorce. That's almost always the third highest stressor on stress tests. For example it'll say something like divorce is worth 200 points of stress and if you get 300 for the entire test you need major psychological help and there's 5 more pages of tests. What if you're the person who has been divorced twice. You're already over the limit of stress points on the third item! And yet I've seen some people jumping up and down with happiness when their divorce is finalized. 


And don't give me "good stress." Nobody talks like that. Has anybody ever come up to you at work at lunch and said, "I'm really excited. A lot of good stress is heading this way this afternoon. I can hardly wait." Or next time somebody says to you in a frazzled way how stressed out they are just ask them if they mean good stress or bad stress. They will probably slap you silly. 


My approach is different. It comes out of my own research and my working with people in really difficult situations. Stress doesn't kill us. We commit suicided with it. Our job is not to manage "our stress" but to quit creating it. We need to rekindle our hearts and our spirits.


Look at the picture above this segment. When was the last time you felt awe? When was the last time your spirit was moved. Jimmy Valvano in his famous speech at the ESPYS said that we should do three things everyday - Laugh, Think, and have our spirit moved to such a degree it affects our emotions. That is great advice. 


How many times have you asked someone how they're doing and they either give you the countdown to their retirement or they say they didn't jump off the bridge - as if that shows real enjoyment in life. You're dead for a long time. Savor the good moments even if there are a lot of bad moments. 


James Stockdale was one of the highest ranking, longest held prisoners in Vietnam. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the book "From Good to Great" by James Collins, Stockdale talked about the importance of believing you can get through the rough times. However he also said it was critical to acknowledge the difficulties that are in front of you. He always said he truly believed he would survive his captivity and it would be the defining moment of his life. I have said in my talks that if they had taken him out to be shot, I am sure his last thought would have been, "You might be killing me, but you didn't defeat me." 

We have a lot to say about our emotional state.

If you want to get some more ideas you can order my book "Who's In Charge?" or download my book, "Don't Manage Your Stress - Rekindle Your Heart - Rekindle Your Spirit."