Stress, as most people use that term, really refers to the reaction that you have to a stressful situation. This is the “fight or flight” reaction. It is the instinctive and unconscious preparation of all your internal systems – muscles, emotions, adrenaline, will – to respond stress as a threat. You either fight a threat or you run away from it. The cost on you internally is enormous. Each such reaction degrades the system’s ability to respond, much like using a knife dulls the edge ever so slightly with each use. Sharpening the edge restores the knife but removes some layer of the knife, shortening its useful lifetime. But there is another way to deal with the stressful situation so that your internal systems have a completely different – and strengthening – reaction. This is to transform the stressful situation into an opportunity for personal effectiveness growth.
Your intent on handling stress is to get your body out of “fight or flight” as quickly as possible. Most stress management systems teach you methods to do this, or to minimize the reaction. Things like meditation, deep breathing, working out, time management – all of these can and should be used to reduce the severity of your reaction to stress. The next level of handling stressful situations is to actually remove this reaction completely. And a higher level of handling stress is to replace this with a positive bodily reaction, one that actually improves all the responding systems.
What is the opposite of “fight or flight”? My online searches came up mostly with the “relaxation response” but this seems to be inadequate. This is actually the state that the body moves in to after the chaos of “fight or flight.” So it seems less like an opposite and more like a consequence. I continued searching and found a word I had never heard before: sthenic. This is defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition as “strong, vigorous, or active.” It is defined by The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia as “Strong; robust; characterized by power of organization or energy of function, as a part or organ of an animal.” This is a much better definition of the state you want to be in when facing a stressful situation.
So how do you go from the “fight or flight” state to the sthenic state? By transforming the stressful situation from a perceived threat to a perceived opportunity. Think of your reaction when you are faced with a positive opportunity or even are just curious about an opportunity. Your emotions tend to be positive, your internal reactions are open and accepting, and your mental state is one of expectation, not fear or trepidation.
You most often feel stress when you feel your boundaries are being pushed in on. This can be your emotional boundaries being pushed by a death of someone you love, or your self-esteem boundaries being pushed by the fear of a new position at work. It could be your comfort boundaries being pushed by public speaking. It could be your expectation boundaries being pushed by the frustration of remaining in a position that you have out-grown professionally or educationally. Sometimes your boundaries are actually attacked, as in a mugging in a dark alley or a mugging in a department meeting.
Your body correctly and accurately perceives these as threats. The “fight or flight” state is necessary to preserve your bodily and emotional integrity. So you need to get your body and mind into the sthenic state as quickly as possible, to achieve your highest level of personal effectiveness. This is very similar to how a martial artist deals with an attack. A martial artist aims to be in a state of non-fighting. This is the origin of the commonly used phrase “there is no first attack in karate” for example. But when an attack does occur, the martial artist reacts to it and aims to return to the state of non-fighting as quickly as efficiently as possible. This is the origin of the commonly used phrase “to annihilate with one blow” in karate, or more commonly: “one punch, one kill.” This is most likely a holdover from the samurai days, when one blow with a sword could kill your opponent (or you. The phrase applies both ways). While no one studying martial arts intends to kill his or her opponent or attacker, the intent is to end the fight, favorably for you, as quickly as possible.
Since you achieve a sthenic state when you are curious about a situation, when you are solving a problem, or just interested in learning more about a topic, the secret is to turn the stressful situation into a curiosity situation. What opportunity is available if you overcome the stressor? What prize is on the other of the boundary you are pushing against? How can this problem be solved in your favor? This turns the “fight or flight” reaction into a sthenic reaction of vigor, power, and activity.
Training yourself to adopt this attitude toward stressful situations will reduce the stress in your life. It will make your relationships be smoother and less dramatic. It will allow you to be the calm in the midst of chaos, because while everyone else is panicking at the indecision, you will be looking it as a puzzle to be solved. You can then transform each stressful situation into a positive opportunity and actually look forward to those situations. Crazy, huh?
Author Bio: STRESS JUDO COACHING is specifically designed to train you to do exactly this. Rick Carter has taken the tactics and strategies of martial arts and trial litigation, and created this coaching program to attack and transform the stress in your life. For the three FREE reports (The Truth: how your current stress management program is probably killing you; The Remedy: what a sthenic oriented stress transformation program would solve this; and The Overview: how Stress Judo Coaching implements this program) and to join the Community of Stress Judo Coaching practitioners, just go to the STRESS JUDO COACHING website and enter your name and email address to the right. We use the “what is your concern?” box to investigate and circulate exclusive reports based 100% on member concerns.
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