Have you ever said the words, "This job/my life is so stressful!" Or something
else along those lines?
Most people believe that stress is something that happens in their lives. They
believe it is the result of outside circumstances beyond their control. We are
stressed if our work is too difficult. We get stressed when people in our lives
arenít doing what we want them to do. We are stressed when itís been too long
since a vacation. We get stress over deaths, weddings, major purchases and a
host of other things. We talk as if stress is something outside ourselves---a
condition of things in our external environment. It's not.
Health professionals will tell us that stress is a contributing factor in many
physical ailments---heart attacks, asthma, high blood pressure, stroke and many
others. There are several diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV,
the diagnostic tool of therapists and psychiatrists that describe many
stress-related disorders. Stress is a killer. Have you ever wondered why some
people seem to handle stress better than others do?
One individual may have all the life circumstances purported to cause stress in
oneís life but seem to be just breezing through his or her day, seemingly
without a care, while another person gets a flat tire on the way to work and has
a total melt down. How can this be explained?
I intend to look at stress from a different perspective---a choice theory
According to Choice Theory, all behavior is purposeful. This means that no
matter what we do it is a purposeful attempt to get something we want. We are
never simply responding to outside stimuli.
You may ask, ďWhat about when I flinch when I hear a loud noise?Ē The flinching
is not a response to the noise, but rather your proactive way of staying safe.
This may seem like Iím splitting hairs, but it is an important distinction to
understand in this discussion of stress.
Let me give you another example. You may think you get mad at your child for not
cleaning his or her room after you asked several times. It sure feels as if the
anger is in direct response to your childís behavior. However, your anger is
actually your best attempt to get your child to do what you want. By displaying
angry behavior, it is your belief that your child will go ahead and clean up his
or her room. Any behavior or emotion we employ is a proactive, sometimes
conscious sometimes not, attempt to get something we want, not a response to
The same is true for stress. We are choosing stress as a proactive attempt to
get something we want. This choice is almost never conscious, but I want it to
become conscious for you. Once it is conscious, then you have the power to
choose to do it differently if you so desire.
Since all behavior is purposeful, it helps to understand what possible benefits
or purposes one could achieve by stressing. Who would ever choose that behavior
for any benefit?
I say stressing can be motivating. Many of us perform at our peak level when we
have that adrenalin rush moving through our veins. Anyone who has ever waited
until the last minute to study for a test or complete a project knows what Iím
talking about here.
Stressing can also be a way of telling others they better back off. I know when
I felt stress, it was my unconscious goal to let my boss know she had better not
ask me to do one more thing or I just might lose it! I would send out signals of
overwhelm---lots of sighing, threatening looks, irritability, loss of humor. I
have to admit that since I didnít do it very often, it was quite effective.
Whenever I was stressed, my boss generally left me alone to do my work.
Stressing can also get us the help we need. When the message is out there,
others may rally around us to support us. People may actually offer to do some
things for us so we can reduce the overwhelm.
Another possible benefit is that stressing can provide us with recognition.
People may say, "Wow, look at _____________. I don't know how he/she gets all
that done. It's amazing!" There are some who appreciate this positive
One final thought on stressing benefits. . . When we stress long enough, we may
develop physical symptoms. In Choice Theory, Dr. Glasser tells us that are
behavior is total, meaning it is comprised of four inseparable component---the
action, our thoughts, our feelings and the physiology of our body or whatever
our body is doing at that moment. When we donít take care of managing our stress
levels, our physiology takes over and creates physical symptoms for us. Now
remember, I said all behavior is purposeful and physiology is a part of the
total behavior. Do you understand the purpose of the physical symptoms that
accompany prolonged stress? Of course, it is our bodyís way of telling us we
have to stop or slow down. It produces the physical symptoms that are hard to
ignore. When we attend to them, we get the rest we need and therefore reduce the
stress. Can you see how all behavior is purposeful?
If you are experiencing the effects of stress in your life, I am not suggesting
that you are to blame. What I am saying is that up until this point, you have
been doing absolutely the best you know how, consciously or unconsciously to get
something you want by stressing. If you can pinpoint what the benefit(s) of
stress is/are to you, then you can look at ways to get what you need without
having to stress.
About the Author:
Kim Olver has a degree in counseling, is a certified and licensed counselor. She
is a certified reality therapy instructor. Kim is an expert in relationship,
parenting and personal empowerment, working with individuals who want to gain
more effective control of their lives and relationships. Visit