Have you ever said the words, "This job/my life is so stressful!"
Or something else along those lines?
Most people believe that stress is something that happens
in their lives. They believe it is the result of outside circumstances
beyond their control. We are stressed if our work is too difficult.
We get stressed when people in our lives aren't doing what
we want them to do. We are stressed when it's been too long
since a vacation. We get stress over deaths, weddings, major
purchases and a host of other things. We talk as if stress
is something outside ourselves---a condition of things in
our external environment. It's not.
Health professionals will tell us that stress is a contributing
factor in many physical ailments---heart attacks, asthma,
high blood pressure, stroke and many others. There are several
diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, the
diagnostic tool of therapists and psychiatrists that describe
many stress-related disorders. Stress is a killer. Have you
ever wondered why some people seem to handle stress better
than others do?
One individual may have all the life circumstances purported
to cause stress in one's life but seem to be just breezing
through his or her day, seemingly without a care, while another
person gets a flat tire on the way to work and has a total
melt down. How can this be explained?
I intend to look at stress from a different perspective --
a choice theory perspective.
According to Choice Theory, all behavior is purposeful. This
means that no matter what we do it is a purposeful attempt
to get something we want. We are never simply responding to
You may ask, "What about when I flinch when I hear a loud
noise?" The flinching is not a response to the noise, but
rather your proactive way of staying safe. This may seem like
I'm splitting hairs, but it is an important distinction to
understand in this discussion of stress.
Let me give you another example. You may think you get mad
at your child for not cleaning his or her room 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, it is your belief that
your child will go ahead and clean up his or her room. Any
behavior or emotion we employ is a proactive, sometimes conscious
sometimes not, attempt to get something we want, not a response
to external stimuli.
The same is true for stress. We are choosing stress as a proactive
attempt to get something we want. This choice is almost never
conscious, but I want it to become conscious for you. Once
it is conscious, then you have the power to choose to do it
differently if you so desire.
Since all behavior is purposeful, it helps to understand what
possible benefits or purposes one could achieve by stressing.
Who would ever choose that behavior for any benefit?
I say stressing can be motivating. Many of us perform at our
peak level when we have that adrenalin rush moving through
our veins. Anyone who has ever waited until the last minute
to study for a test or complete a project knows what I'm talking
Stressing can also be a way of telling others they better
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 us to support us. People
may actually offer to do some things for us so we can reduce
Another possible benefit is that stressing can provide us
with recognition. People may say, "Wow, look at _____________.
I don't know how he/she gets all that done. It's amazing!"
There are some who appreciate this positive recognition.
One final thought on stressing benefits. . . 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 component---the action, our
thoughts, our feelings and the physiology of our body or whatever
our body is doing at that moment. When we don't take care
of managing our stress levels, our physiology takes over and
creates physical symptoms for us. Now remember, I said all
behavior is purposeful and physiology is a part of the total
behavior. Do you understand the purpose of the physical symptoms
that accompany prolonged stress? Of course, it is our body's
way of telling us we have to stop or slow down. It produces
the physical symptoms that are hard to ignore. When we attend
to them, we get the rest we need and therefore reduce the
stress. 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 absolutely
the best you know how, consciously or unconsciously to get
something you want by stressing. If you can pinpoint what
the benefit(s) of stress is/are to you, then you can look
at ways to get what you need without having to stress.
Kim Olver has a degree in counseling, is a certified
and licensed counselor. She is a certified reality therapy
instructor. Kim is an expert in relationship, parenting and
personal empowerment, working with individuals who want to
gain more effective control of their lives and relationships.