Years ago, feeling like a lifetime ago, during one day of a salary negotiation, I could feel the churn in my stomach, literally and physically. By the end of the day, I got the salary I wanted. And really, at no point during the negotiation was I in disadvantaged position. I was proud of myself for standing firm, but the bile accumulated during the day almost made me throw up. That began my long journey of stomach issues. Undoubtedly, the root cause of my stomach ailment might have been dormant for years and this stressful event just provided the right stimulus for the problem to manifest. My point is that stress affects our physical well-being, and both temporary and prolonged stress hurts us in manners that we can’t usually predict.
Of course what stresses me might be an easy task for another person, and we each have our breaking point, as I presented in my article, “Stress is both Subjective and Objective.” Often, when people are so accustomed to living in a constantly stressful situation they take their stress for granted and don’t notice it mentally…except their bodies do. By now, most of us are fairly familiar with the theory of body-mind connection. When the mind is over stressed, the resulting consequences range from a weakened immune system to a heart attack or stroke or other serious physical ailment.
After writing the above paragraphs, I stalled. I thought about getting into the science of body-mind connection and tying it to organizational issues, but it’s complicated. Facing a possible, yet another, three-post series on neurons, hormones, memories…just stressed me out. I ended up veering into writing on other types of writing for a couple of weeks. I even got into left-handed painting (I am usually right handed) and discovered that I probably would have been a left-handed person if not “corrected” when I was young. It was both exciting and stressful (what have I missed?). I cleaned the house, a definitive sign of stress for me. Made desserts; fortunately, I don’t care for eating much of them…still… Basically, I’d do anything but continue writing on this topic.
I could drop the topic and move on. Yet, I like a challenge. Eventually, I decided to do a random walk to get around this “stress.”
During this period, I found some commiseration with others’ stories of stress.
Story 1: Tom had a long and not terribly good day. Arriving home late that evening, seeing his son by the table with a birthday cake on it, Tom said dejectedly, “Oh, son, I am so sorry; I forgot it’s your birthday. I didn’t even get you a gift.” His son said, “Dad, it’s your birthday!”
Story 2: A friend forgot her twin’s birthday one year.
Story 3…well, it’s more like a saying: A male friend’s comment, “’Suck it up’ at work ultimately gets you a hernia.” Oy!
An organization can be over-stressed too. I think this election cycle has really put our country under a lot of stress. What would be the tangible manifestations of prolonged organizational, or societal, stress?
While I find the scientific body-mind connection fascinating, I think how to manage stress is the million-dollar challenge. If you can manage/relieve stress bit by bit over a period, how would you know that you have prevented any bad physical symptoms? To be able to prevent — the absence of negative – doesn’t naturally or automatically bring comfort. It’s not as if one day you wake up and realize, “Yay, I kicked the habit of stressing myself out.” While there are plenty of stories about heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, etc., resulting from stress, we don’t usually know when to separate ourselves from those little stressors…till strokes or heart attacks take place. While one can celebrate a successful recovery from a heart attack or stroke, how do you celebrate not having them in the first place? I know a few people who get stressed over preparing for vacation, or over the disagreements with their mates on the vacation, and over the post-vacation bills.
A dear friend who is as sweet as he can be, nevertheless blows up at people, including his loved ones because he would not let any external disagreement, or whatever he deems unreasonable, stress him. I wish I could do even 5% of that! Yet his relief often is the cause for others’ stress.
I don’t know the answer. We each have to define and locate our stress points, and we each have to monitor our own environments and our own physical signs for stress. Recently, I found myself worrying myself sick about and fuming over an event that I dread attending. Eventually I filled myself with venomous energy that made me even more unhappy with myself. Happily I stopped; worrying about it would get me nowhere and fuming about it makes me an ugly person. Self-awareness helped. How do you develop that? Methodically, with practice, and with loved ones who can remind you and nudge you toward finding relief…but you need to listen to their suggestions.
Probably equally often, we find ourselves in situations where we can only choose the lesser of evils. So, we are still stressed, just not as much? Is that supposed to be comforting? Yet, I am afraid that least-stressful choices dominate modern life in our organizations and in our society. In the end, I think all we can do is to be aware, to find relief however we can, whenever, and wherever.
Well, I do feel much better now. I hope you have better ways to deal with stress than I do… please share. Till next time,
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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