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Stress (Strain)

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WHAT IS STRESS? In physics stress is defined as a force or system of forces that tends to strain or deform a body. Actually, the term "strain management" would be more accurate, because while we cannot control external forces, we do have some control on their impact on us. Psychologically, it means an emotionally or mentally disruptive influence. Both definitions are related. In essence, "stress" (strain) is related to fear in its broadest definition. Fear of change, present or to come, real or imagined. It can be associated with superficially diverse elements, such as frustration, loss, anger, or any of the many forms of fear. As far as stress is concerned, what happens or threatens to happen to us is less important than our reaction to it. Nothing is more certain in our lives than change.

Therefore, to be alive is to be under some form of stress, if for no other reason that we all have a natural resistance, inertia, if you will, to change. Any kind of accomplishment, any creativity, any ambition, any adjustment, any necessity for self-protection involves stress. It can then be argued that a certain degree of stress is not only necessary, but also beneficial and our organism is perfectly capable of handling it without adverse effects. The level of "stress" each one of us is capable to handle harmlessly varies from person to person. Beyond that level, stress has a debilitating effect and becomes difficult to manage. Our organism has difficulty to meet its demands. THE ADAPTIVE REACTIONS OCCURRING WITHIN US GET OUT OF LINE AND CAN CAUSE CHEMICAL CHANGES, WHICH MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS AND SOMETIMES IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE.

Threats involving drastic and/or continual change, conflict and uncertainty, real or imagined, are usually causing too much stress and may seriously affect our organism. In recent years, endocrinologists have studied the effects of "stress" on laboratory animals and humans. Without wishing to detract anything from the quality and value of such research, its results have only confirmed experimentally what has been empirically known since antiquity, namely, that excessive stress can cause serious damage, even death. All major religions have addressed stress, directly or indirectly. A.S.P. has dealt with stress management since its inception, over thirty years ago, with a few, simple, psychosomatic exercises. Some guidelines for handling stress are given below.

IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH. A healthy person is usually adaptable and can cope with considerable pressure. He is positive in his outlook and hopeful. Proper nutrition, physical fitness, outdoor activities, all have a beneficial effect on stress.

ADOPT A REALISTIC OUTLOOK. No one ever went through life without disappointments. Facing this fact in the light of our transience, helps us to see each of our problems in its proper perspective. Rather than becoming wrapped up in our difficulties (even though some of our problems may be real and serious) we can avoid becoming paralyzed and unable to take positive action. Most of the time inner tensions are eased by a positive and realistic attitude. Failure will not crush us, if we realize that ALL fail from time to time. More often than not, we can do something about our failures and self-pity is not much help.

Realism involves also knowing when to let go. Attempting to master situations beyond our control is bound to result in frustration. Because effort without accomplishment produces stress, it is best to avoid no-win situations. This does not mean that we should give up easily, at the first sign of difficulty, but that we should try to evaluate each situation realistically, asking for counsel when necessary, ~and getting back in control of our lives by letting go, if this is the best course to follow. There are always things we can do that make a difference, and there are always efforts that can be rewarded. Resisting clearly indicated change is unwise. Realism allows us to assign valid priorities to any goal or task at hand: this goes a long way to foster achievement and a sense of fulfillment.

Priorities, however, cannot be assigned without a proper sense of values and we should often reexamine ours, keeping love and gratitude on top of the list. Happiness and inner peace cannot be achieved with any degree of even relative permanency, with the help of material acquisitions only. Sooner or later, saturation is reached and thirst develops for more and more, with no end in sight. Material goods are quite necessary, but at their right place and with proper perspective of their real value.

HANDLING EXCESSIVE STRESS. Being under excessive stress can be compared with being lost in the wilderness. Any seasoned outdoorsman will say that you must first of all avoid panic. Sit down, get hold of yourself, relax, and take stock of the situation. There is always something positive that you can do. Of course, it would be better not to find yourself lost in the wilderness, particularly if you are not prepared for it! In any stressful situation it often helps to consider the worse possible case and get prepared to face it. So much the better if it does not happen! In general it is better to avoid over-stimulation, life offers us plenty of reasons for anxiety and stress without us looking for them. Selfishness in all its forms is a great source of stress. Helping and encouraging others giving of yourself, even to a modest degree, does much to alleviate stress. Negative feelings such as greed, anger, hatred, envy, the desire for revenge create more harm to those who harbor them, than to the person against whom they are directed. A.S.P. has exercises addressing active and passive relaxation. Both result in eliminating stress to a certain degree by removing, at least partially, from one*s thoughts whatever causes it. When these are complemented by a positive attitude of hope, kindness, leniency and love, stress recedes.

DRUGS, ALCOHOL AND STRESS. It is unfortunate that so many people seek escape and solace from stress by resorting to drugs and alcohol. Particularly young people. Could it be that our values are destroying our souls? Mood altering chemicals mislead their users by posing as means to escape reality. But do they? In fact, they create more stress by leading their victims into a vicious circle from which it is hard to escape.


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