Stress and distress

Stress is about two things. One is force, the second is ability to withstand that force. The term was originally borrowed from engineering where it is a key concept in assessing the strength of metals. In medicine we tend to focus on stress as a problem, not as an opportunity. This is a characteristic of medicine that we look at problems and their causes to see how people get ill. As a doctor we don?t always focus on what keeps people well or gives them added resilience.

There are various definitions of stress. One I find useful describes that 'The outcome of an event depends on the event itself, and on what we make of the event.' As Hamlet puts it, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Our thought patterns determine what we make of events and so our stress levels. Events have always happened, and will continue to happen. However we as humans have power to choose our response to events. It is in our thoughts, feeling and responses to events that most of us discover our stresses and relaxations.

Stress can come from two sources. One is an internal drive to be perfect. This is good if you have it, up to a point. It makes you conscientious. However if the self evaluation and self criticism is too much you will never live up to your high standards and get depressed as you judge yourself a failure.

The other source is that there is just too much going on and you need to reduce the flow and deal with one thing at once. If you have a boss directing the flow to you who will not reduce it you have a problem.

Many stressful situations can be resolved by using this key:

A problem can be solved by
1. Denial
2a) Sort the problem (good if you have control to do this)
2b) Sort out how you respond to the problem (You always have power to do this, once you discover the techniques)
3) Move away from the problem (Useful often, but beware jumping from the frying pan into the fire)

Stress is ultimately about our ability to carry loads. We all need to carry some burdens in life, but we none of us need to carry every burden. We especially do not need to carry everyone else?s burdens. Hans Selye later wished he had used the term strain as stress in psychological terms is really about us feeling under strain, and how we handle this.

The counterbalancing concept to stress is that of resilience. Human beings are meant to carry a certain load of work and responsibility and we can boost our ability to do this in various ways. The links below give some ideas on this:-
http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/
http://www.apahelpcenter.org/featuredtopics/feature.php?id=6
http://www.resiliencycenter.com/index.shtml
Peter Davies, 23/07/2008