Learning Strategies Blog

Overcoming the Myth of Stress

by Paul Scheele

Ever feel as if life is spinning out of control, with one crisis after another coming at you, leaving you feeling a victim of circumstances and stressed beyond your ability to respond?

How you perceive what is happening in your life is great determinant for how well you thrive and excel. It isn’t the trying situation—but how you respond to it—that determines whether or not you feel and act like a victim.

More and more, stress is reported as a contributing factor to illnesses of all kinds. But you can free yourself from feeling worn down by high levels of stress by freeing your mind from the popular, but mistaken, beliefs about stress.

Dr. Hans Selye, the physician who conducted pioneering research into the connection between stress and disease, apologized in his retirement for one serious mistake.

What is commonly called stress, he said, is really an internal experience of strain. This means that the antidote to the messages about stressors in your life is to experience whatever happens as feelings of strain.

Strain can be beneficial. Just imagine any athlete who builds their physical strength with periods of exercise performed at an optimal level of physical strain and interspersed with short breaks, followed by rest.

The same principle holds true in your job and other life activities. According to resiliency expert Dr. Al Siebert, author of our Resiliency personal learning course, it is essential that you take brief, relaxing pauses during a never-ending flow of urgent tasks.

Your body has a way to rebound and repair itself from emotional and physical strain. You have a parasympathetic nervous system that works like a secret inner healer when you disengage yourself from all effort, says Siebert. This inner healer works on your behalf when you relax, take naps, feel happy, laugh, play, and sleep well at night.

Take a few minutes every day (starting now!) to relax completely. Sit comfortably, breathe in and out with slow, deep breaths, repeat a word of your choice, and let your mind remain silent.

Treat any busy situation like a workout at a gym.

Decide to handle each thing that you do with good energy. Then pause and relax between exertions. Your pause may only be eight to ten seconds. That’s okay. Take one long, deep, relaxing breath. Loosen your neck and shoulders. Then engage the next task with good energy.

Try this strain-pause method for a week and notice what effect it has. When you let your inner healer work with your strain, not only will you stay healthier, you’ll thrive and excel!