Stress is a funny thing. During The Biggest Loser, stress management was a life or death situation. Too much stress and your weight loss would dwindle. Too little stress and you’d be too comfortable and forgo the workouts. Jillian and Bob were all about keeping your stress level perfect – in balance. Let’s look at the word “stress” and what it means: Stress: A state of mental or emotional strain or tension (pressure) resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Synonyms: strain, pressure, tension, worry, anxiety, trouble, difficulty. Causes: Deadlines, frustrations, demands.
Stress is normal
Stress is a natural physical response from your body when you feel threatened or when you are out of balance. It is the “fight or flight (or freeze)” response. Stress is the natural reaction to protect you from harm. It is a survival mechanism. It can give you extra strength, help you rise to meet challenges, and keep you on your toes. It sharpens your concentration or drives you to excel and work hard when time is short. That being said, stress can also kill you.
Stress, when in overdose, can cause damage to your emotional or physical health. It can ruin your mood, productivity, strain your relationships, and affect your life. Out of balance, stress is an enemy. In balance, stress is just a part of life.
Stress is inevitable
It’s not a question of if you will experience stress; it’s a question of when. And sometimes it’s all around you and you don’t even realize it – you may not even know how it’s affecting you – and those around you. Have you ever been told, “You sure are grumpy lately.” Or “Is there something wrong? You’re just not yourself today.” That could be a sign that stress is upon you and you just weren’t aware of it.
Stress can look different for different people and in different situations. You can be in the “fight” mode, seeming angry, agitated, and even looking for a fight. You might fidget or be overly emotional, ready to pounce at the slightest inconvenience. Or you could be in the “flight” mode, and appear withdrawn or shut down. You may seem spaced out or even tired and depressed. And you could even be in both modes at once – shut down, but ready to attack on a whim!
How do you handle stress?
How you handle stress can depend on a number of things. It can depend on your emotional maturity, network of support, confidence in your ability to handle situations, or your attitude. In The Journey Training, we teach about different personality traits. One personality may hate spontaneity, while another thrives on it! What stresses you out may be fuel for another.
Optimistic people can generally handle stress in more healthy ways than pessimistic people. An optimist takes challenges head on, often seeing the problem as a challenge. A pessimist usually sees a problem as a problem, and a situation that could cause pain and hurt in their life. Pessimists worry about things before they even happen, causing stress in their life. Once, Arthur and I were at the airport in San Francisco. We had planned to sit by each other to discuss a training we just went through during our time of designing The Journey Training. When we got our tickets, I saw that we weren’t sitting with each other. I freaked out! My status on the airline is supposed to avoid this! I kept saying, “We have to sit together! I want to talk about what we’ve just gone through!” Arthur said, “It’ll all work out.” I replied, “It had better!” He then replied, “Worst case scenario is that we don’t sit together.” I then said, “That had better not happen!”
When we got to the counter, I began my rant and was explaining to the attendant all the reasons this shouldn’t – and couldn’t – happen! This airline employee, who was from a foreign country, raised his hands and said loudly with his accent, “STOP! YOU ARE SCARING YOURSELF!” Arthur began laughing profusely. I was confused – until I realized that I had created a bigger problem than it actually was. To Arthur, it wasn’t that big of a deal not to sit next to each other for 3 hours. For me it was a catastrophe!
When we boarded the plane, the two men who were sitting in the aisle between us wouldn’t budge! They were “aisle hounds” as I like to call them. It turned out I sat beside a man that lived with the creator of American Aikido – something Arthur and I were going to talk about! It turned out to be a divine appointment! I was creating a problem where there was just a hiccup – or a detour.
Am I stressed?
Probably the most important thing in how you are able to handle stress is your knowledge and awareness of it. If you ignore it, or stuff your feelings when they come to the surface, you’re more prone to the explosions that can cause damage to your physical health as well as your emotional health and relationships. Like I said before, stress is a part of life. How you respond to stress is the key to making it work for you and not against you.
Stress can come in many forms. It can be financial problems, big life changes such as moving or buying a house, or deadlines that you feel you may not be able to handle. It can come from your children or family, work or school, or just feeling as though you’ve got to do it all. It can look like worry, an all-or-nothing attitude, unrealistic expectations, or even perfectionism. The crazy thing is that although stress can come from many different sources and look very different at times, your body doesn’t know the difference. It handles all stress the same way. Because this is the case, you’ve got to direct the responses of stress in a more healthy way.
Stress induced response
When stress hits, you can do a number of things to turn the tides on how you handle it. There are several ways to avoid those damaging levels of stress. In The Journey Training, we teach that when feelings arise, you must give them a healthy voice. This doesn’t mean yelling at people and raging, but it does mean getting those feelings out in some healthy, non-abusive way. This may look several different ways. We teach that though journaling you can process your feelings and seek why you feel the way you feel. You can do this with a journal, or even through processing with a buddy. You can also deal with stress by turning that energy in to a physical exertion such as exercise or cleaning out that garage you’ve been needing to tackle! In one way or the other, the physical energies that stress causes don’t go away, and they should be let out in a healthy manor.
Sometimes you need to avoid stress. There was a relationship in my life that always caused stress. I was trying to get on The Biggest Loser television show and this certain person was completely negative about it. Every time we talked, the conversation either turned into a political argument or a Biggest Loser dream bashing. I decided to quietly move away from the relationship. I’d answer texts and emails, but I always was “too busy” to take their call – on purpose. I knew when I picked up the phone, an argument would ensue. In this way, I successfully avoided the stress and was able to stay focused on my goal.
When you can’t avoid the stress, you can change the situation by changing what you can: your response. You can respectfully let your feelings and concerns be known, or explain why the situation is painful or stressful to you. You can choose to find a compromise instead of being that “all-or-nothing” person. You can’t change other people or even the situation at times, but you can always change the way you respond to the situation! You can change YOU.
In AA, the serenity prayer asks for God to give you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I was having sort of a stressful time in the relationship with another friend, so I decided to talk to my pastor and get some counseling on the situation. His response was, “Are you expecting this person to be different than what they are? Are you surprised they do that? It just seems to be the way they operate.” This opened my eyes that the power was in my hands. I had a choice: I could avoid the person or accept that this is how they are. Why would I expect any different? That simply piece of knowledge helped me heal my relationship with my friend. My expectations were simply too high, and I shouldn’t have the expectation of him acting different than he naturally does. My choice was to accept him or avoid him. I chose to accept him the best I could.
The Truth about Stress
Stress is inevitable. You must avoid it when you can, embrace it when you can’t, and learn the amount that is healthy for you. Stress can motivate you or break you and decline your health. So how much is the right amount?
I equate your life like a guitar. With no stress, the strings have no tension. You can’t play a single note. Turn the tuning peg too much and the tension becomes too much, causing the string to break, and it loses the ability to be useful. But with the right amount of tension on each string (or each area of your life), beautiful music can be played. Your guitar must be in tune, each string given the proper amount of tension to vibrate at the exact speed to make the notes work perfectly together. This is balance.
When your life is out of balance, with too little or too much stress, your song is quelled. Too little stress and you are too comfortable, and in turn you become stuck. Too much stress and you’re stretched too thin, and eventually, you break and are no good to anyone. But the right amount and a beautiful song is played called life. Avoid stress when it gets too much, and apply a little pressure when you get to lax, and your life will turn out just fine!
While I was on The Biggest Loser, Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper – and all of America watching – applied just the right amount of stress to make me sing a beautiful song. Now, it seems too much stress has left me tired and worn out, and in response I have gained too much weight. It’s time for me to re-prioritize and cut some unhealthy stress, I need to add some useful pressure to my life. Will you join me in singing a song to affect your own life and that of those around you? Will you tune your guitar to make beautiful music? In the end, ask yourself one question when a stressful situation hits. Will it matter tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year? If not, let it go. If so, find the strength to change what you can, accept what you cannot, and pray for the wisdom to know the difference.
Danny facilitates monthly in an experiential training called The Journey Training. In this weekend-long seminar, attendees are taught the self-awareness needed to make positive changes in their lives. Sign up now for the next Threshold class and begin singing your new song today!