We live in a stressful world. Stress is almost as common as breathing. Did you know that many famous people have suffered from emotional stress too? Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Bill Russell, Alanis Morisette, Howard Stern and Oprah Winfrey all suffered from stress so much so that it affected their lives negatively.
Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics was voted one of the best professional basketball players of the century. However, before many games he vomited due to the stress he felt to do well. The common characteristic of all these famous people was their lack of confidence. Even though they are all super talented in their respective fields, they had doubts about their abilities and this resulted in stress. They worried about being accepted by others and appearing competent.
If these famous and successful people are affected by stress, even though they received tremendous acclaim on a daily basis, it is no wonder the rest of us are prone to worrying about being accepted by others too.
What is Stress?
In the early part of the 20th century a Harvard Medical School psychologist named Walter Cannon first described the body’s reaction to stress and coined the phase fight or flight or flight response. Another way to describe stress—stress is like love—-hard to define but clearly recognizable when you feel it.
Stress is physiological and psychological arousal in response to a life situation that is perceived as a threat. People determine whether a stressor is interpreted as a threat (negative) or a challenge (positive). So, at the end of the day your stress level is up to you!
Stress as a Positive
Not all stress is bad. For instance, you might feel stressed out before making a presentation before a group in class or at work. The anticipation causes you so much concern that you do an extra amount of research and work to make sure your presentation goes well, and it does. The kind of stress that leads to a positive outcome is called eustress.
Managing Stress in Recovery
For those of us in recovery, prior to getting sober we would use our drug of choice to subdue our feelings of stress. Getting accustomed to having and living with feelings of anxiety and stress are part of an effective recovery program. Now instead of self medicating our feelings away we can understand that stress is not unique to us and that all people deal with it.
Since how we respond to the emotional stress in our life determines our positive or negative experience of it, we are in control of our stress. Becoming of aware of stressors in our life are also referred to as triggers. Prior to getting sober our typical response to a stress event was that we may have used. Today with our new awareness we can choose a different response to our stress.
Stress is a Model:
- Life Situation
- Perception of Situation
- Emotional Arousal (anxiety, nervous, fear)
- Physiological Arousal (heart pounding, tense muscles)
- Outcome—-Positive (ability to successfully handle situation) or Negative ( use drugs or alcohol to alleviate stress)
Using the Stress Model for Stress Management
Seeing that there is a clear road map that stress takes in a persons life allows us to interrupt the process at any stage. We know we are going to experience stress in our life and in recovery it is extremely important to manage our stress in a healthy natural way.
For instance, let’s say we are stressed about an upcoming interview for a job (life situation). Our (perception) of the situation is that we don’t feel qualified for the job. This is where we have a choice to change our experience. What if we looked at the interview as an exciting opportunity that is totally worth the fear and anxiety we are feeling right now? It is a chance to develop our interviewing skills and meet someone new. We decide to be proud of our self for having the courage to go to the interview and move forward in our life. We decide not to focus on the outcome, only the opportunity.
Now that you know stress is a normal life occurrence and everyone experiences it, overtime you will become better and better at managing the stress in your life—without the aid of drugs or alcohol. Recovery is one day at a time.