by Melodie Davis
for release October 27, 2000
Without Stress, You're Dead
I've probably taken a half dozen or more stress tests in my life (no, not the kind you do at the hospital, but the paper and pencil kind). There are books, workshops, tests, magazine articles and now web sites galore on stress. I've come to the conclusion that a lot of people are getting rich off of stress. One web site estimates we spend $9.4 billion a year coping with stress.
However, I usually find it useful to pause and look at issues like stress and change: how much change can you endure without falling apart? Does change come easily for you, or do you resist it? Life without any change is, of course, death. Stress itself is neutral-it just is. Our reaction to life's stresses is what is important, and something we can manage. "Fifty years ago, only bridges were stressed," notes the Stress Inc.: Commerce of Coping web site at http://stress.jrn.columbia.edu (a delightful site, by the way). "Humans were nervous, worried, or fearful. Since the 1950s, stress has evolved from an engineering term" to an emotional term, the web site points out.
The pace of change today leaves most of us panting to keep up. An informal survey of seniors graduating from one high school revealed that one of the fears mentioned most consistently was keeping up with changing technology. This from the kids!
Lee Schmucker, who with her husband Marvin operates a consulting firm called Schmucker Training & Consulting (Wichita, KS), led our staff recently in an excellent stress seminar. The nice thing about it was, it wasn't stressful. No one had to think too hard. We laughed and played-both important stress relievers in today's world.
Schmucker pointed out that if we grew up in a household with several children or if we have moved several times, we already have learned many ways to cope with stress. Any household with several children has multiple demands on its bathrooms, toys, and space. There are multiple schedules, needs and priorities to manage.
Schmucker graphically illustrated how our ability to respond to stress is diminished when we have too much change coming at us all at once. For instance, productivity is often reduced. For an exercise, she had us write our formal, business signatures as many times as we could in 30 seconds.
Most of us completed seven or eight signatures. Then she had us switch our pens to the other hand-the hand that we don't normally use in writing-and again asked us to write as many signatures as we could in 30 seconds. Most of us could only produce two or three signatures in that amount of time, and of course the result was awful: not only was productivity greatly reduced, but quality. So, frequently, we can't work or produce as well under stress.
We did another exercise to help us realize the emotional effects of stress. We were to pair up with someone we didn't know very well, interview them and observe as much as we could about them in one minute. Then Schmucker asked us to turn our backs on each other and change five things about our appearance. My first reaction was, "I can't do it! Three or four maybe, but five?" But I set about taking off my watch, moving my ring, untucking my shirt, taking off my shoes, and finally, rolling up my sleeves. After we shared a few chuckles about the creativity of fellow participants who parted their hair differently, removed belts, glasses, or took off jackets, Schmucker then asked us to turn our backs again, and change three more things about our appearance.
The groans were real this time, but then we started in again, using ideas we had seen others try. She didn't make us complete the exercise, because she mainly wanted us to experience what it feels like to cope with new demands for "change" when we think we have just experienced all the change we can manage.
So, change and stress can be debilitating; we think we can't cope or take any more. Or it can call upon our creativity to come up with new solutions and responses. We can do that by first identifying what is causing stress. Recognizing it and naming it are helpful to do. That can relieve stress in itself. Then look to see if you can eliminate what is causing your stress, or change your response to it. Finally, decide on a plan of action to begin to help you cope with the things that are causing your stress. Even if you can't eliminate it completely-remember, without stress we are dead-having a plan and coping one step at a time can ease your mind.
For a free booklet, "Easing the Burden of Stress," write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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