The Stressor vs. the Stress

You may not be able to affect the stressor
but you can always mitigate the stress.

The distinction between stressor and stress is crucial. Stressors are what trigger your stress reaction. They can be anything from a frustrating colleague to a pressured deadline to a challenging diagnosis to the craziness we are currently living. We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that the stressor will dissipate if we can deal with the stressor. Not so. Here’s why. Stress is the neurological and physiological reaction in your body when you encounter a stressor. It’s unconscious, evolutionary, and remains in your body until it is processed.

Dealing with your stress is a separate process
from dealing with the things that cause your stress.

Dealing with the stressor

If you can control or, at the very least, influence the stressor, begin by defining the issue or problem in the most realistic terms possible. For example, you are working from home, and your five-year-old is doing on-line kindergarten. There are times you have to be on a call and she/he is unoccupied. You don’t want to add to their ever-growing screen time as a default, but you also want to be able to focus as much as possible. Can you control this situation/stressor? No. Can you influence it? Somewhat. You can do what a client* of mine did and create an “I’m in a Meeting Notebook” full of fun things to color, draw, practice. The notebook can only be used when Mom’s in a meeting, which enhances its value. Will it work with all kids every time? Unlikely. But it will work sometimes and those times will be less stressful for all involved.

To deal with your stress,
you have to complete the cycle.

Dealing with the stress

Before you can deal with the stress, you have to acknowledge it. Denial is dangerous to you and your health (and those around you). Telling yourself, “It’s resolved, I’m okay now,” isn’t enough. The triggered emotions are like tunnels; if you don’t go all the way through, you won’t see the light.

As the authors of Burnout suggest, “While you’re managing the day’s stressors, your body is handling the day’s stress, and it is essential to your well-being — the way sleeping and eating are crucial — that you give your body the resources it needs to complete the stress response cycles that have been activated.”

Ways to complete the cycle include:

  • Moving – Best regularly, but just standing up and stretching can help
  • Breathe – Deepest breath all day, in to the count of 5 out to the count of 7. Three times is better than just once
  • Positive social interaction – It can be an exchange with a friendly colleague or a regular Zoom gathering of friends
  • Laughter – My current favorite is the Apple+ show Ted Lasso (It’s Brene Brown’s favorite too)
  • Affection –  20-second hug, petting a dog, holding a child all work
  • Big ol’ cry – Ugly cries get a bad rap. Sometimes it’s the quickest way through the tunnel
  • Creative expression – Journaling, painting, knitting, woodworking, etc., etc.
  • See for good in the moment strategies

Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.
Wellness is not a state of being but a state of action.

Content predominantly found in Burnout by Emily Nagoski Ph.D. and Amelia Nagoski DMA

Good listen for introducing the concepts: