You have never felt more powerful than you do in this moment. You are conscious of your muscles warming up as blood flows into them preparing to handle whatever is about to happen next. You feel the familiar tightening in your chest and neck. The tingle of sweat beginning to form on your skin. Your focus sharpens. You feel awake and alive.
What is this amazing feeling? The answer may surprise you: stress.
For those of you that have somehow avoided feeling stress this far into your life, allow me to define it for you. (Congrats, by the way, but you should probably call your neurologist now to get that looked at.)
The clinical definition of stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Yikes. Sounds pretty intense, doesn’t it?
When most of us think of stress it immediately conjures to our mind’s eye some of the most painful and unpleasant experiences of our lives. That 4 hour exam that would make or break your college career; your father yelling at you; being told you have a life-altering medical condition; staring down a rather sharply dressed man at that one job interview. In fact, I’ll bet you started to feel a little stressed right now just thinking about it.
Now, as we define this I do want to clarify something up front. There is a difference between the kind of stress one might experience, say, in the jungles of Vietnam or through Asperger’s sensory issues vs. the everyday kind of stress one experiences in the waiting room of a job interview.
The difference is this: with the first kind, the kind that has a tendency to cause Defense Mode (and in the case of the soldier, PTSD), it’s something that is happening to you and that you are powerless to stop or control. The second kind, the kind we’re talking about in this article, usually has more in common with anxiety. It’s based largely in your perception of the stressful event, and you usually have at least some choices. (i.e. You are choosing to be in that job interview. You’re not trapped there and unable to escape.) In fact, in these sorts of situations there is one choice in particular that can completely negate the negative effects of that stressful experience. More on that in a minute.
The Secret of Stress
Today I would like to offer a different perspective on stress. There might be more to stress than you realize. In fact, some of your previously held notions about it might be dead wrong.