Pain and Stress [1]

The term is thrown around loosely… stress.  I’m stressed. That was stressful. I’m under a lot of stress. This or that is stressing me out. I need a break from all this stress, a vacation to break free, only to need a vacation from the vacation because the break wasn’t without its own stress.

Stress seems to be everywhere, but when asked what exactly is stress no one can actually state what is stress?  What does it look like? Can you point in out? If not, then can you describe it? Why is it that we all seem to say the word, but we cannot seem to nail down what we mean?

Confounding us further is that stress is not static. Something we enjoyed initially can change from being a source of pleasure into a source of stress.  Consider a new job, at first its exciting, the people are new, the tasks are new, but in time, that job can become stressful and when new things come along, instead of the excitement we used to feel, now we feel stress. How it happens, exactly when it happens isn’t clear… it just seems to happen.

No different then pain, stress doesn’t exist outside our brain. It is a mental construct we create.

No different then pain, when we decide to perceive stress, we give life to stress, we birth stress.

Nothing changes an exciting new job into a stressful boring job except us.  We decide.  We decide to change what we see, and by doing so we create stress out of our dissatisfaction, angst, frustration. We change how we look at our spouse, our home, our car, our wardrobe, our employer, our pay, our kids, our life, yet we wonder where did all the stress come from?

There are no ‘stress’ receptors in the body.

We create stress, by perceiving a moment, a person, an event as stressful. Since we have the power to cause stress to come to life, then we can just as easily cause it to cease to exist. How?Not by denying its existence, not by repressing or suppressing, but by respecting that stress is real, by refusing to engage it, and when required to engage it, doing so using specific strategies that we have trained: remaining in a relaxed rational state so reasonable decisions are made, overcoming the urge to react, to fight, to freeze, to flee, to panic, to choke.

Stress rises from our perceptions of the world.

Can you see both the duck and the rabbit? Can you switch between the two? How quickly?

Duck Rabbit Duck

Attribution: Taro Istok

What about in life? How do you see moments, people, events? From only one side? From many sides? What about all sides? When all we see is one side, when we refuse to see other sides, or when we refuse to consider that our side may not even be a side, we create stress.  When we try to fit a square peg in a round hole, and instead of realizing that it doesn’t fit, then applying force desperate to try and make it fit, that is when we create stress. If we take a moment, and slow down, widen our perspective, take in the entire landscape, examine all sides, seek alternative perspectives, and take the time to understand where, why, and how others are approaching the moment differently then us, we allow bridges to be built instead of battlefields.

How we perceive life determines how we feel, how we experience life.  Don’t like how you feel, then change how you perceive the world. Sounds simple, it is; it’s just not easy to execute.

In 2001, Serena Williams walked onto the court of the Indian Wells Tournament in the finals. The stands immediately erupted with booing, and it didn’t stop.  Serena’s father Richard was heckled in the stands. During the match, at each point Kim Clijsters won, the spectators erupted enthusiastically in applause; at each point Serena won, she was booed. At other points in the game, Serena could hear the word ‘nigger’ flying around in the stands.

Stressful? Threatening? Painful? Are you kidding me? A stadium full of angry, hateful, disappointed spectators with no one but you to take their frustrations out on. If Serena gave into the temptation of allowing herself to fall to fear, into her reflexive flight-fight-freeze mode, to tell everyone off, to run out of the stadium, to ball up and cry, then finals would have been over before they even started. Instead, Serena focused on the task at hand, retained her composure, remained in a relaxed state and prevailed, defeating Kim 4-6, 6-4. 6-2.  Watch for yourself S.Williams vs. K.Clijsters on Youtube [1/3]  [2/3]  [3/3].

In 1992, Silken Laumann was warming up at Worlds when she was struck by another boat. The tip of the row boat cut through Silken’s calf, slicing off everything… skin, muscle, tendons, nerves.  The accident happened 10 weeks before the Barcelona Olympics to which Silken already qualified to compete. 10 weeks later, after numerous surgeries, a prolonged hospitalization, weeks without training, Silken walked onto the deck of the boat house of the 1992 Olympics Games with a cane and a still fractured ankle.  She walked away with a bronze.

Stressful? Threatening? Painful? Ya’ think? But Silken decided that it was an opportunity to learn how to heal, how to focus her energy on gratitude, to visualize and work with her body to heal.

Champions are champions not because they have avoided stress in life, or that somehow they missed out on being hit by stressful times, stressful people; champions are champions because they have trained in anticipation of stress, so when it does come, they are prepared to win.

Champions have trained to engage stress at the ultimate level – to be on the receiving end of racial slurs, to be on the receiving end of trauma – but to refuse to engage the pain and stress. To deny the tension in the stadium, to deny the injury and the pain would have locked both Serena and Silken into behavioural patterns which would have rendered them impotent. By refusing to engage the negativity, refocusing on what was in their power, seeing an alternative to the downward spiral, they overcame, they prevailed, they demonstrated how a champion conducts themselves in the face of dark dark times.

Its a process of training, preparing for greater and greater stresses and stressors in life.  No one starts with the task of taking on the world’s best at the Olympics or at Worlds, or as CEO of a company. I encourage you to start from where you are at… with the stress that you have before you, and if you train daily, with focus, with specific intent, implementing appropriate strategies and techniques by repeating drills to perfect their execution, then you will climb through life, rising over both stress, pain, loss, change, grief, doubt, disbelief, as you reach for your summit. In time, you too will walk into your Olympic stadium or corporate boardroom to face your greatest challenge, a moment of darkness where you get to show off your light. You will achieve your victory not by standing on the podium, but by coming face to face with fear, refusing to fall for its game, refusing to see only one outcome, open to not only multiple outcomes, but open to the uncertainty of an unknown outcome, trusting that the outcome is designed for your good, will be good, is good no matter what.