Stress is an essential part of everyday life. In fact, we need positive stress, or what Hans Selye called eustress, to move forward, grow and achieve our potentials. My son needs that little extra help to get out of bed on a school day; otherwise, he’d be in bed all morning.
Distress, however, is from negative stress or stress that overwhelms us. This can affect us mentally and physically. It can take the form of competing demands from your work, school, home or social lives, an abusive or adversarial relationship, or situations that seem beyond your control.
We function at our best when the challenge of our activities matches our resources and abilities. An example would be the perfect job that absorbs all of your attention, engages your talents and provides you with the time and support you need.
When your abilities far exceed the task at hand, you’d be underachieving and you’d feel bored. You need enough challenge to bring out your best.
If the demands of the situation are beyond what you can manage, you experience increasing stress. A common example is a job in which you’re doing the work of two people, there’s not enough time to get everything done and you don’t even have time to take your lunch break.
Chronic mounting stress can lead to burnout. If we feel that the mounting stress is exceeding our abilities, we begin to feel helpless, and that helplessness commonly results in anxiety. We will have difficulties relaxing, sleeping and enjoying each day.
Over time, continued overwhelming stress can lead to feelings of hopelessness, and this can eventually lead to depression. At this point, we lose our motivation, enthusiasm and capacity for positive experiences. Even if we’re not teenagers, we might have difficulty just getting out of bed.
The key is the locus of control. We are most distressed and unhappy when we feel powerless in our lives – if our actions feel futile, if our dreams are repeatedly shattered, if our feelings are not acknowledged or if our voices are not heard.
This is important for teachers and parents to recognize – that we must listen carefully to hear a child’s voice.
Your happiness exercise for today:
Ask where you are on the spectrum of stress. What are the major stressors in your life and how are you coping? Are you experiencing enough challenge in school or work? Are you feeling fully engaged? Are you growing and moving forward?
Or are you feeling distressed by your situation or your workload? If you are, what aspects of the situation are under your control? What are your choices?
Coming up: Strategies for Managing a Difficult Situation and Coping with Stress.
Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing the insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.” Each day, I will post one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong, twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and my blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.