From Where I Sit – To Stress or not to Stress

Dr. Peter Hanson’s 1987 bestseller entitled The Joy of Stress was perhaps the first jargon-free work outlining the ramifications of stress. He believed stress could be fantastic or fatal. This supports the work done years prior by Canadian researcher Dr. Hans Selye. Stress is unavoidable, unless you’re dead. Harnessing the magic and potential of good stress is the goal, while reducing the disastrous effects of sustained stress.

The problem, we’re told by medical professionals and personal development experts, is not the stressful event itself. But rather, it is how we react to it that determines whether the experience will be fantastic or fatal.

Different people react differently to exactly the same event. The same stock market crash drives some people to suicide, while others are cashing in long-term with some judicious buying and selling. A spouse’s infidelity can drive some to the bottle, others to divorce court, and yet others to a journey of renewal and rediscovery. Over-eating, taking drugs (prescription or otherwise), withdrawing from society, getting bitter over circumstances beyond their control are all coping strategies. Not particularly good ones mind you. There is no shortage of worries, be they real or imagined. Worries about events likely to occur or one in a million, regardless they captivate those looking for something to dread. From a pandemic to acts of terrorism to job loss to grey hair — there is always something to stress about.

In fact, years ago, Seattle psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Holmes devised a list of life events, both pleasant and unpleasant, that increase our susceptibility to illness. He assigned a score to each event based on its potential health impact. Topping the list at 100 points is death of a spouse. Christmas is 12 points. Outstanding personal achievement is 28 points. Marriage is 50. A jail term is 63. Some may argue that they’re one and the same event. But who am I to say? Postponing, cancelling or avoiding too many of the listed events that occur within a brief timeframe is advised. The higher your score the more likely you are to fall ill.

It seems to me that attitude, a stockpile of inner and outer resources, and time are the best healers. We can all reshape our attitude about what’s happened, stop the hand wringing and come up with a plan of action. We can all look to past successes to bolster our damaged self-esteem. We can all ask someone else for help and support. We can all let time works its magic as it dulls the pain, gives us perspective, and provides us with options for carrying on or changing direction.

And as the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I know whereof I speak. I’ve suffered the very public pain of losing a re-election bid in a municipal election. I was also on the Lakeland Regional Health Authority Board that Halvar Johnson fired in 1999 for refusing to balance our region’s healthcare budget. Nothing like being front-page news! Neither event killed me. Life can and does goes on from where I sit.

Hanson, P. (1987). The Joy of Stress. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing.