Most people believe that stress is something that happens in their lives, as if it’s an unavoidable result of circumstances beyond their control. We are stressed if our work is too difficult, when people aren’t doing what we want them to, and when it’s been too long since our last vacation. We get stressed over deaths, weddings, major purchases, and a host of other things. Although we talk as if stress is something outside ourselves, something that comes from a condition of things in our external environment, it’s not.
Stress can have grave consequences. Stress is a killer; many people suffer from stress-related disorders. It is a contributing factor in countless physical ailments, such as heart attacks, asthma, high blood pressure, strokes, and many others.
Have you ever wondered why some people seem to handle stress better than others do? One person may have the worst luck but is just breezing through his or her day, seemingly without a care. Another person could get a flat tire on the way to work and have a total meltdown. How can this be explained?
According to Choice Theory, all behavior is purposeful. This means that, no matter what we do, our behaviors are purposeful attempts to get something we want. We are never simply responding to outside stimuli. Something involuntary, like flinching at a sudden loud noise, is your proactive way of staying safe—it’s not just a response to the noise. It may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but this is an important distinction to understand in this discussion of stress.
Another example is the anger you feel when your child refuses to clean their room, even after you asked several times. It sure feels as if the anger is in direct response to your child’s behavior. However, your anger is actually your best attempt to get your child to do what you want. By displaying angry behavior, you hope your child will go ahead and clean up his or her room. Any behavior or emotion we employ is a proactive, sometimes conscious but sometimes not, attempt to get something we want. It is never just a response to external stimuli.
The same is true for stress; we choose stress as a proactive attempt to get something we want. This choice is almost never conscious, but you can work to change that. Once you’re conscious of this choice, you have the power to choose a different behavior if you want to.
Since all behavior is purposeful, it helps to understand what possible benefits or purposes one could gain by stressing. Who would ever choose that behavior for any benefit?
Stressing can be a motivator. Many of us perform at our peak level when we have that adrenalin rushing through our veins. Anyone who has ever waited until the last minute to study for a test or complete a project can understand. Stressing can also be a way of telling others to back off. I know when I felt stress, it was my unconscious goal to let my boss know she had better not ask me to do one more thing or I just might lose it! I would send out signals of overwhelm: lots of sighing, threatening looks, irritability, loss of humor. I have to admit that since I didn’t do it very often, it was quite effective. Whenever I was stressed, my boss generally left me alone to do my work. Stressing can also get us the help we need. When the message is out there, others may rally around to support us. People may actually offer to take on part of the burden so we can reduce the overwhelm. Another possible benefit is recognition. People may say, “Wow, look at her. I don’t know how she gets all that done. It’s amazing!” There are some who appreciate this positive recognition.
When we stress long enough, we may develop physical symptoms. In Choice Theory, Dr. Glasser tells us that are behavior is total, meaning it is comprised of four inseparable components: our thoughts, actions, emotions, and our body’s physiology. When we don’t take care of managing our stress levels, our physiology takes over and creates physical symptoms for us. If all behavior is purposeful and physiology is part of our behavior, can you understand the purpose of the physical symptoms that accompany prolonged stress? Of course, it is our body’s way of telling us we must stop or slow down by producing physical symptoms that are hard to ignore. When we attend to them, we get the rest we need, and the stress is reduced. Can you see how all behavior is purposeful?
If you are experiencing the effects of stress in your life, I am not suggesting that you are to blame. What I am saying is that, up until this point, you have been doing the absolute best you know how, consciously or unconsciously, to get something you want by stressing. If you can pinpoint the possible benefits stress is bringing you, then you can look at ways to get what you need without having to stress.
Consider taking a Basic Intensive Training and learn how to deal with stress in your life. For more information go to http://www.realitytherapycentral.com.