what is it about this thing called stress?

“Stress” has become such a common word that sometimes I wonder if we know what we mean by it?! I get confused when people say they are stressed about making a decision like what to wear to a function. Seriously, dressing makes you stressed??? Now, there is no doubt that there are times that life is busy and you have a lot of anxiety about important issues, and at those times even the simple decisions can be stressful (i.e. they add to the load you are carrying). But, for most of us, the decision about what to wear to a function is about feeling inadequate (how can I impress people?), confused (exactly what does “smart casual” mean in this context?) or unhappy with our looks (why aren’t I taller/shorter/slimmer/curvier/etc.?).
Perhaps all the talk about stress these days is a way of avoiding our actual emotions without it seeming so? After all, who can argue with someone who is so stressed? No one. And generally stress is something external to ourselves. Tell people you are down or blue, and they tell you to cheer yourself up. Tell friends you are grumpy and they tell you to snap out of it. Tell folk you are stressed, and everyone sympathises. No need to take action, no need to change.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, stress is a real phenomena. Think of it in its engineering context, it is about load bearing. A bridge can take a 10 tonne truck. If an 11 tonne truck drives over it, well, end of bridge (I am no engineer, so apologies for an oversimplified example). Stress in our lives works like that. We have a certain capacity for managing the demands in our lives, each relationship, job or task puts a “load” on our capacity. When we work at the top of our capacity, we experience stress – the load starts to feel heavy.
Perhaps now is a good time to take stock of our loads? Rather than say “I’m stressed!”, what about stepping back and looking at how close to maximum capacity you are? Then, perhaps its time to look at values and priorities and figure out how to shed some of the load. Easier said than done, I know.

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