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What is Good Stress? What is Bad Stress? Part 5

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What is Good Stress?
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Whale and babyThis image was emailed around online. I'm using it without photography credits. If you are the photographer, please let me know if it's all right to use it here (and send me your name to give you credit!).

This image certainly shows how a mother has patience with her baby. She is taking her time. She knows there is no need to rush. She helps, but remains calm. I love the image, so I put it here to show what relaxation means. The image also makes most people smile, and as I wrote previously—smiling is very important. Make sure you have something to smile about every day.  The jaw is one of the most highly innervated structures of the body. This means if the jaw is relaxed, it helps to calm the entire nervous system. This is one of the reasons why TMJ (Tempero-Mandibular Joint) syndrome affects so many parts of the body, not just the jawbone.

What is Stress?

As the founding editor of a 4,000-page how-to business Web site that was very successful for many years, I hired and paid freelancers to cover many topics that eventually were never used when the crash came. They accepted that their names would not be included, and now I have their articles without their names. There were three interesting articles on stress. I include a few excerpts here in this series with some cutting and editing.

Just what is stress? Is it always bad? Stress-related disorders are epidemic. (People blame stress for their bad behavior, as if that is an excuse for being unkind to someone else!) Many people take pharmaceutical drugs, but medicinal herbs work just as well and are a lot healthier for your body. It's about lifestyle. Are you going to do what is natural for your body, or are you going to pump your body with synthetic chemicals? Stress causes problems at work and at home and even on the highway. There are many drivers who experience road rage. Anyone who drives on an interstate or any other major highway, knows about this. Road rage and drugs aren't great combinations.

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Tropisms: Remember biology class? Plants moved toward the light, toward food, toward things that would make them grow better. Those were called tropisms.

At the same time you also saw how even single-celled organisms would move away from noxious stimuli—which could be the same things they moved toward when conditions were slightly different. They might move toward light (phototropism) when seeking light for growth, but move away when sudden bright light was shined upon them.

Well, guess what's the same with us humans. Sometimes we relish a challenge and sometimes we are afraid of one. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by what needs to be done around the house—ironing, washing, cleaning, scrubbing. Then there are times when we actually enjoy doing these things. It's all in how we think about it. If you meditate while you clean house, it will become a lot more interesting. You could also sing and that would bring a smile to your lips while washing the toilet.

Here is a method I taught my students over the years and witnessed the incredible results of how it helped to relieve stress. No matter what you are doing, do it with intention. While you wash a dish, watch yourself and what your body is doing. Wash with intention. You will begin to notice that as you move around in your body, you begin to feel how everything that you choose to do, you do consciously and intentionally. The more you can do this, the more you will be free to meditate while you are busy with your body and mind. It's a remarkable experience.

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Most of the time we think of stress as only the bad kind, the kind that makes us respond in one of two ways, described by Selye in his experiments: FIGHT-or-FLIGHT.

This described the very simple tendency to reflexively deal with bad stress by either getting the heck away from it—or putting it away from you. In most couples, there is a tendency for the couple to have wholeness with one member of the couple preferring to deal with stress by distancing, the other by approaching.

There are strong studies which suggest that we have innate patterns of responding to stress. These are what we think of as our temperament, and our innate, inborn patterns of response.

Most everyone who has had more than one child has seen “up close and personal” how the babies respond differently to even routine things such as diapering or hearing a dog bark outside. This may be hard-wired from birth, but it is certainly modified by our life experiences. Really attentive parents sense what kind of stress is too much for their baby and intuitively protect them and build up their stress-proofing gradually.

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There are some other ways to deal with stress that are not quite as reflexive as these, including:
  • Collapsing (not dealing with it).
  • Displacing (taking all your upset and taking it out on your employees, your spouse, your children, your dog).
  • Internalizing all the anger so you are chronically mad, expressing exorbitant anger at even small stresses. This is often seen in children and cranky elders having tantrums.
  • Being physically exhausted and sick all the time.


So what is good stress? It's the impetus for:
  • getting us going
  • making us curious
  • leading us outward and/or inward

If we weren't experiencing good stress, we might not want to go to college or join the symphony quartet or learn to meditate. Think of professional musicians who push themselves relentlessly to practice, practice, practice. Then they push themselves to perform in front of critical others.

Why? Because their life would be flat, boring, and meaningless without that stress. The stress that puts a musician over the edge is the other kind of stress: the flat tire, the parking ticket, the ATM card that won't work, the delayed flight. THAT is stress to them.

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Many families that are running a household with at least two generations present (householders) are exhausted and under a wide variety of stress:

  • financial
  • safety
  • work
  • home
  • auto
  • child-rearing
  • parental care

Many parents burn out by working too hard, and playing too little.

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The management of burnout most simply appears to be finding paths to avoid working too hard and increase playing. Playing includes all those recreational things that one can do to re-create, to renew, to revivify: sports, music, arts, and devotions.

It usually helps to do those things which keep us healthy:
  • get enough sleep
  • eat healthy foods
  • play enough
  • be with friends and family
  • laugh often

The social component is crucial. Whereas throughout human history people's work and play have been relatively indistinguishable, now it seems we work and play and spend time with friends/family/kids. Everything is more compartmentalized. So, if you can, try to have some healthy overlap:

  • Have friends over with your kids for a meal.
  • Help a friend clean their garage while visiting.
  • Laugh and joke with your husband/wife while folding laundry.


Remember: Stress is what keeps us alive. Too much stress begins to deplete us and then burn us out so we can become irritable or ill. We want the right balance between enough challenge (good stress) and too much pressure (bad kind of stress). Too little stress and we don't make much change or have much growth or adventure; too much and we get exhausted.

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