We’ve all met Larry – the guy who got hammered by a major event at work or home, but was able to bounce back. Then there’s Mike – the guy who experienced what seemed to be a hiccough by comparison, but never seemed to get over it.
What made the difference? More to the point, what can a man can do to become more stress resilient?
I hope this post will give you some handles on the causes, responses, effects of stress, as well as specific tools you can use today to increase your stress resilience.
Where does stress come from?
Stress is not “caused” by external events, whether daily hassles or major crises. Instead, it occurs when a man believes life is demanding more from him than he is capable of giving. Often, it’s how we appraise the situation that makes the difference.
Some of the ways we typically respond to stress
Stress is one of the most prevalent problems men are facing today. Quite a bit of research has gone into its causes and solutions. What has been discovered is that there are 7 general coping styles:
- Avoidance: “When I have a problem, I tend to let things work out on their own.”
- Seek emotional support: “When I have a problem, I tend to turn to others who can help me feel better.”
- Seek instrumental support: “When I have a problem, I tend to turn to others who can help me brainstorm solutions to my problems.”
- Stress prevention: “Rather than wait for problems to happen, I plan for the future.”
- Strategic planning: “When I have a problem, I find ways to break it into smaller parts, and attack them one at a time.”
- Reflective planning: “When I have a problem, I think about various alternatives to successfully resolve it before I act.
- Proactive coping: “I don’t wait for problems to happen. When I set a goal, I do everything I can to achieve it. If I encounter a problem, I take the initiative in resolving it.”Each of these responses might be appropriate in certain circumstances. Sometimes Avoidance might be appropriate – allow relatively minor stressors to work out on their own; not every problem is a catastrophe. On the other hand, avoiding a Category 5 stressor will only make things worse. The key is learning to use each stress response appropriately, matching it with a corresponding stressor. The weightier the stressor, the more important it will be to employ strategic, reflective, or proactive responses.
Some of the common effects of stress
Stress affects each man differently because of each man’s unique vulnerability or resilience profile. However, there are some common effects that, if left untreated, can cause serious problems in every man’s life. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, but representative of some of the effects of un-treated stress.
- Physical effects: Heart disease, stroke, hypertension, sleep disturbances, sexual problems, headaches, and muscular and joint pain.
- Relationship effects: Irritability, withdrawal from loved ones, increased use of alcohol, escaping to the television or internet.
- Emotional effects: Anger, panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts.
- Mental effects: Distortions in thinking patterns, such as All-or-Nothing (black or white; success or failure); Over-generalizing (single negative events are seen as a never-ending pattern of defeat); Jumping to Conclusions (making negative interpretations even though there are no definite facts to support your conclusion).
- Spiritual effects: Sense of abandonment by God, regression to spiritually immature behaviors and thoughts, disuse of prayer, meditation, and Bible reading, cessation or sporadic attendance at church worship services (see above “withdrawal from loved ones”).
Some things you can do today to reduce your stress
- One of the most effective strategies for coping with stress is to evaluate how you’re thinking about what you’re going through. Ask yourself these questions:
- What am I currently telling myself about what I’m experiencing?
- On a scale of 1 to 5 how strongly do I believe what I’m telling myself?
- Is there another way to think about what I’m going through?
- Brainstorm alternative explanations, and select the most believable (at least a 4 on a 5-point scale).
- Create a bumper-sticker slogan for yourself based on your new explanation. Write it out on a 3 x 5 card.
- Mentally rehearse your slogan as you think about your stressful situation. Create a High Definition mental picture of yourself successfully using the slogan when you encounter the problem.
- Look for opportunities to put your slogan into action. Make a few opportunities happen.
Many men unwittingly change their health habits when they encounter stressful situations. They eat more or less than usual; they sleep more or less than usual; they exercise less; smoke and drink more. If you find yourself responding in any of these ways, get back on track with your regular health routines. Watch your diet; maintain a regular bed-time; get some exercise, even if it is just a walk around the block; cut back on sugars, alcohol and tobacco. Limit your screen time (mobile, computer, TV), and turn it off at least an hour before you go to bed.
Rent a funny movie. Depression as a result of stress is a force to be reckoned with. An hour away from the pressures may be enough to help you think more clearly about your options. On the other hand, if you’re up until 3 a.m. watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island, something else is might be going on.
If you’re a Christian, make full use of your spiritual habits to get a grip on stress and your responses. Pray about it; turn it over to God. Meditate on influential Bible verses or passages that give you hope. Get prayer and wise counsel – perspective – from trusted men in your church. Often, another set of eyes to help you see your situation in a new way. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s wise to ask for help.
Do you have any strategies that have worked for you? Email me your best ideas. They may appear in a future post (with your permission, of course).
Until then, Press on, men. Press on.