Is There a Way to Deal With Stress Without Confronting Its Source?

Actually, as it turns out, that might not be the best solution anyway

by Chris Bourn

There are a couple of undeniable truths about stress. First, it will (eventually) kill you — causing a litany of ailments that include a weakened immune system; ulcers; memory loss; abdominal obesity; and an accelerated aging process. One very recent study, published in The Lancet, even finds a direct link between emotional stress and heart disease. Second, we won’t do shit about it. Mainly because we know the only way to really, truly rid ourselves of stress is to tackle the source of said stress head on, whether that be quitting your job or busting free from your relationship.

At least, that’s what most of us believe. But there must be some sort of happy medium, right? Something that would allow us to alleviate the short-term pain while still doing nothing about the long-term game. Or at least buying us some time before we need to stare down the very thing that’s making us miserable — and weakening our immune systems, giving us ulcers and stealing our memories from us. You know, punting. Yet while it might seem like a cop out, it’s not as impossible (or unhealthy) as it seems. And it might just be the best thing for you.

#1: You’re still gonna get a peace of mind

“When you’re so stressed that you can’t think with clarity, you need to do some other relaxation techniques first,” says Mary Alvord, director of a group mental-health practice in Maryland. It’s sensible enough advice: Stress floods your system with adrenaline, which increases both your heart and breathing rate to ship more oxygen to your tensed up muscles. This clenched state — especially the spike in blood pressure — not only causes damage to your body over the long-term, it seriously clouds your judgment. So before you even consider confronting the source of your stress, it’s a good idea to find a way to dial down the symptoms.

Which techniques will be most effective depends on the source of your stress, Alvord explains. For chronic stress emanating from uncertainty about the future, or from dwelling on past events in your life (e.g., divorce or death), she suggests training yourself in the psychology cure-all du jour: Mindfulness. “It’s not making you forget,” she says, “but it teaches you to be in the moment and not to get stuck on the past or worry unduly about the future.”

For stress that’s unbearable, she teaches visualization techniques: “This is so you can be at work, in a stressful situation, and imagine yourself by the ocean, if that’s something that’s relaxing for you. Go there for a few minutes, calm yourself down and then you can get back on task.”

#2: You’re gonna figure out what you can control in the first place

At the root of many people’s struggles with stress is a missing sense of control in their lives. It’s no coincidence that being choked by debts and bills, or even just having a career that seemingly offers no room for meaningful advancement, are so often cited among the leading causes of stress in America. But if our stress is really coming from a feeling that we’re not in charge of our own lives, what’s the answer? How do you control what you can’t control?

For some psychologists, cognitive behavior therapy programs — in which patients are encouraged to break down their problems into manageable parts and understand how they’re affecting them — are the best answer. “It’s learning to be proactive and coming up with plans to take initiative, so that you feel like you’re doing something,” she explains. If your stress is work-related, it could take the form of on-the-job training or mentoring, or getting as far from work as possible and doing the things that make you happy. “If you can believe that you have some power to control some aspects of your life — not everything, but some aspects — and take charge of those, you tend to be more resilient in more areas,” she says…



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