Stress is a double edged killer.
On one side it strikes and debilitates you emotionally. Too much stress can even cause dissociative personality disorders. The “split personality” is an example.
On the other edge, it can destroy you physically. Stress causes parts of the physical body to malfunction. For example, high blood pressure and heart attacks are notoriously susceptible to high levels of constant stress.
Knowing this I have made it part of my own routine to understand my own stresses: what causes them and what solves them.
Here are four of my stress points and what I have done to cope with them.
1. Situations I can do nothing about.
When I was in high school, there was this girl I really liked. I enjoyed being around her. She brought out the best in me, but there came a time when she started liking another guy. I was miserable. I was convinced I could win her back. And I was willing to do just about anything to do that, including physically confronting the other guy. The challenge was the other guy was a stud.
He was about two inches taller than I was, twenty pounds heavier, “better looking” (although I didn’t think so), and had a very cool decked out car.
So there came a point where I started adding up the pluses and minuses of the situation, and concluded I was in a no win position. So even though I felt bad, I resigned myself to accepting the hand I had been dealt.
I’ve learned there are some conditions I have no control over. It’s better to accept them and get on with the life I can control.
2. Situations where I have the resources to overcome stress:
In 2007 the real estate market cratered. At the time I had started and owned a construction and development company. We were involved in seven different projects when the real estate bubble burst. I went crazy.
In this situation I didn’t have to accept my fate, however. I had resources. My wife and son in law were involved in the business with me. While I was the official owner, my wife was the CEO and my son-in-law was the general manager.
We came together and settled on a strategy – “One day at a time, one problem at a time.”
That settled me down. We divided out the responsibilities and patiently went to work. It’s now eight years later. Of the seven projects and properties we were involved in, we have successfully closed out four of them, absorbed a loss on one, and are managing the last two.
I was blindsided by the real estate bubble. But, taking it one day at a time, one problem at a time saved me. The stress of it didn’t take me down. I’ve learned that there aren’t many challenges in life that can’t be worked through with patience and good day to day management.
3. Situations where I decided I needed help.
I’ve taken a fair amount of professional and business risks in my life. Sometimes these risks were big. In every big risk situation, there’s always a moment where things go sideways, and there’s a chance of losing everything. These are times of intense stress. On occasion, this has resulted in high levels of personal anxiety.
Realizing this, I’ve had to make a decision: either I stop taking risks or I seek help. I didn’t stopped taking risks, so at the insistence of my wife I started conferring with my doctor. That was a wise thing to do.
He gave me a pill to take when the fires inside of me are raging out of control. The little pill was like pouring tons and tons of water on a forest fire.
Afterwards, I asked myself: why not stop taking risks? I’ve concluded that I’m most alive when I’m taking risks. Without risk, I run out of energy. But, the flip side of being fully alive is being fully vulnerable. I know this about myself, so now I do what needs to be done to manage myself, even if that means taking a pill.
Are there risks in taking that pill? Of course, but compared to what I go through when there is intense stress in certain business and professional situations, there’s no comparison.
Am I a constant risk taker? No. I take a risk, work through the problems, hang on until things improve, take my gains, relax a little, then take on a new venture.
4. Situations where rare experience can lift you out of stress.
There was this one time I became frustrated by the leadership above me. I thought they were holding my professional progress back. I decided to move completely out of the area to get a fresh start.
One night close to when I was going to close on a new home, I had a vivid dream where I took the place of one of the leaders I thought was holding me back. When I woke up, I thought it had happened. I’d never had a dream like that. The dream was so realistic that it caused me to postpone my move. Within two years, that leadership was changed and I was asked to take the place of the particular leader whose place I took in the dream.
I was shocked by this event. It was like I was able to see into the future.
To say the least, the stress I felt about my situation changed the moment I woke up from the dream. That moment of awe has never completely left me. And that was over thirty years ago.
I don’t know if something like that will ever happen to me again, but I don’t close myself off to the possibility. Different people have tried to understand what causes such events: The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung called it a moment of “meaningful coincidence”, Jesus called it a “miracle”.
To me, in rare moments, the world can act in a wonderful, if sometimes random, manner. I know, I experienced it. I hold out the hope that if needed it may occur again. That’s why I share it with you as a possible solution to the stress that can dog us.
After decades of living, I understand that life can lay some pretty heavy body blows on us.
One moment we can be sailing through life, and the next we can be hit with the destructive power of stress.
I’ve become pretty good at analyzing and understanding under what conditions that has occurred in my own life, and what strategies I needed to employ to manage it.
But I’d never claim I have it all worked out. However, I’ll always try to give it my best shot.