What is it that really happens when we get “stressed out?” Oftentimes we seem to have no idea. It just sort of happened, we think. Actually, though, stress reactions frequently occur in very identifiable and predictable steps that connect our mind and body in a psychosomatic loop.
To understand stress simply and effectively, we must be aware of the steps to a stress reaction. Our emotional reactions turn into bodily arousal. The mind and body is an interconnected unit with the mind impacting the body, and vice versa. In the psychosomatic model, then, if one part of the unit (mind or body) is stressed, the other will also become stressed. For example, suppose Bob finds himself in a traffic jam when he only has five more minutes to arrive to work on time. He tells himself that he’s going to be late and the boss will chew him out. Bob’s mind begins to race and he feels anxious. What will surely follow is a bodily response of some or all of the following stress-related symptoms: muscle tension, accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweaty palms, etc. He has become stressed.
What happened? Did a traffic jam “cause” Bob to feel stress? Of course not! Bob sensed something in his environment and, upon noticing the stimulus – the traffic jam – his mind made an interpretation of that stimulus. The crucial point to understand is that events, and stimuli, are neutral. Without interpretation, they mean nothing at all. What do several cars and some red lights have to do with stress? If Bob had nowhere to be and no schedule to follow his interpretation, and the outcome, would have been completely different.
There are two basic ways to deal with stressors: eliminate them or re-think them. Elimination works sometimes, but when that’s not an option we can learn to view our world differently. Make sure to ask your counselor for proven ways to develop this critical skill.