“We live in a stressed-out world”, I told a 9-year old boy the other day.
Then he asked me, “Who created the stressed-out world?”
According to the latest research, an estimated 75% to 90% of visits to primary-care physicians are for stress-related complaints. Not only that, but in the United States alone, in 2002 people spent nearly $17.2 billion worth of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
That’s $17.2 billion that could have been used to build new schools and hospitals, provide clean water, grow food and build housing for millions of people across the globe!
It’s all very absurd.
As a coach, I spend my days having powerful conversations with people from all walks of life about what they, want deep inside their hearts and all the obstacles that stand in their way. And one thing I’ve learned in the three years that I’ve been coaching is that there’s a clear distinction between two kinds of stress which modern-day scientists now call: ‘Distress‘ and ‘Eustress‘.
Before I tell you the difference, let us first look at some definitions of stress.
The Definition of Stress
According to Merrion-Websters’s dictionary, the term stress had none of its contemporary connotations before the 1930s when it first began to be used by Walter Cannon to refer to “external factors” that disrupted what he called homeostasis or the body’s natural equilibrium. Simply, stress is the result when something ‘outside’ of yourself throws you out of balance and outside of your ‘comfort zone’.
The word stress actually comes from the Latin stringere meaning ‘to draw tight’. Kinda like when you have tight rope around your neck and you can feeling drawing tighter each passing day!
The HeartMath Institute, which has studied the problem of stress for over 22 years defines stress as: “a response to a threat, real or imagined, that results in a series of physical and emotional adaptations by our bodies.”
Distress vs. Eustress
Distress is the “most popular” kind of stress we normally refer to when we say, “I’m totally stressed-out.” This kind of ‘negative’ stress contains feelings of physical or psychological over stimulation which causes a sense of oppression and creates imbalances in the physical, emotional and mental body. Distress causes irritation, depression, loss of sense of humor, worry, fear, forgetfulness, aches and pains, nervousness, fatigue, and illness.
Research has shown that in our modern society, the #1 cause of distress is the “feeling” of not having enough time complete a project, create money, and having many ‘incomplete’ or open projects with long to-do lists. Notice that the cause of stress is not the time, but the actual feeling.
Eustress, on the other hand, is the kind of stress often experienced when you are confronted with a demanding or challenging situation or task which you know you’re capable of handling, but will require you to develop new skills, habits, behaviors or attitudes in order to succeed. Having challenges and the responsibility that comes with them can give you a feeling of thrill and excitement, as long as that challenge is something you choose and is in alignment with what you really, really want to create in your life.
This positive kind of stress contains feelings of physical or psychological arousal and a sense of eagerness to welcome the upcoming adversity or difficulty. This type of stress makes you feel truly alive, the way you feel when you’re playing a game. It is good and necessary for human living and it’s the same kind of stress author Stephen Covey referred to when he said,
“Opposition is a natural part of life. Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.”
How to know the Difference?
So let’s say for example that you are working on new projects (like a promotion or business venture) or perhaps you are entering a competition (like a sports tournament), or perhaps you just found out your boyfriend is cheating on you, or you’re going though a divorce. How can you tell if the stress you’re experiencing is distress or eustress?
Why? For the same reason one kid loves to ride a roller-coaster over and over again, while another kid will get sick just stepping on it. It’s the same roller-coaster, right? But each kid perceives it completely different. To the first, it is a challenge that makes him feel alive. To the other, it’s something that could cause his death!
My point is, it is your perception and response to your current situation that’s causing you the stress. Not the situation by itself.
The Heart-Based Solution
In my experience, the best way to deal with stress of any kind is at the level of the emotions or feelings, and not just at the level of the thoughts. Most fears are just irrational. Fears are emotions, and you just can’t psychoanalyze or coach an emotion away. It’s never worked for me and I’ve never seen it work for anyone else.
What I know works for me and most of my clients is first becoming aware of those unwanted emotions you’re currently experiencing and rather than running away from them, fighting them, repeating affirmations, or trying to focus on something else, choose to simply feel them and literally ‘sit with them’.
Practice feeling your emotions for a change! That is the first step.
You cannot change anything you’re not willing to first deeply accept. Once you accept it, and allow it, it will begin to transform.
I like to think of the word Stress as an acronym that stands for: a ‘Symptom that a Transformation is Required Emotionally in order to Sustain Success’
And the only proven way that I know to strengthen my capacity to deeply accept, and allow an emotion is by strengthening and energizing my heart which, as many authors and researchers have demonstrated, is ‘The Seat of the Emotions’. Stress is, at its core, an emotional response which later becomes physicalized. So why not deal with it at the level of the emotions, by energizing the heart?
A healthy, energized, and lovingly expanded heart is the only way I know out of the ‘Stressed-out World’ many of us have created for ourselves.
In my next series of articles I’ll be sharing with you 21 Heart Intelligence practices that will help you enhance your capacity to feel your emotions, and allow them to transform into positive emotions that will literally help you shift from distress to eustress. They will also help you live a more Heart Intelligent life.
Take the Stress Test
Would you like to find out just how stressed-out you really are? The following test developed by researchers Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe is a great tool to help you become more aware of your current levels of stress. To find out where you are today, simply follow the following two steps:
Step 1: Circle the events you’ve experienced in the past year. Then, total the number of points assigned to the items you’ve circled:
- Death of a spouse – 100
- Divorce – 73
- Marital separation – 65
- Imprisonment – 63
- Death of a close family member – 63
- Major personal injury or illness – 53
- Getting married – 50
- Dismissal from work – 47
- Marital reconciliation – 45
- Retirement – 45
- Major change in health of family member – 44
- Pregnancy – 40
- Sexual difficulties – 39
- Gain of new family member (birth, adoption, elderly relative moving in) – 39
- Major business readjustment (merger, re-organization, bankruptcy) – 39
- Major change in financial state – 38
- Death of a close friend – 37
- Change to a different line of work – 36
- Change in the number of arguments you have with a spouse – 35
- Major mortgage – 32
- Foreclosure of mortgage or loan – 30
- Major change in responsibilities at work – 29
- Son or daughter leaving home – 29
- Trouble with in-laws – 29
- Outstanding personal achievement – 28
- Spouse begins or stops work outside of home – 26
- Beginning or ending formal schooling – 26
- Change in living conditions – 25
- Revision of personal habits 24
- Trouble with boss – 23
- Major change in work hours/conditions – 20
- Change in residence – 20
- Change in schools – 20
- Major change in recreational activities – 29
- Major change in church activities – 19
- Major change in social activities – 18
- Minor mortgage or loan – 17
- Major change in sleeping habits – 16
- Major change in number of family get-togethers – 15
- Major change in eating habits – 15
- Vacation – 13
- Christmas season – 12
- Minor violation of the law (traffic ticket, etc.) – 11
Step 2: Add up all the score together, and compare your result to the following list:
Less than 150 points = low risk of developing stress-related illness
150-300 points = medium risk of developing stress-related illness
More than 300 points = high risk of developing stress-related illness
(Remember – this score is just a baseline estimate of your stress levels! Keep in mind that there might be other factors affecting your current level of stress that are not mentioned here.)
Is your World too Stressed-Out? Maybe I can help!
During the month of May I’ve decided to set myself a new coaching challenge. I want to have one-off coaching conversations with 12 people of any walks of life who are living under medium to high risks of developing stress related illness. I believe coaching is perfect for people who are wanting to transcend their current stress in their lives, and live healthier and happier lives. With so many people dying of stress related illnesses, I might just save a few lives!
So who do you know who might benefit from a powerful conversation with me, by phone, Skype or in person? Can you think of a friend or colleague? A brother or sister? Please message me and I’ll waive my normal fee for them. It’ll be an opportunity to go deep and explore who they really are, to see themselves more clearly and to work through anything they’re currently stuck with that’s keeping them feeling stressed. I won’t be charging for any of these sessions. My main aim here is to coach people who wouldn’t normally get coached — so please let me know if you know someone who could benefit. Feel free to email me at info(at)gabrielgonsalves.com