From Biosis 17, July 2007

JoAnne’s Motivational Minute:
Turning Distress to Eustress

by JoAnne Boettcher-Verigin

Stress.

We all deal with it every day. We talk about it. We complain about it. Most of us can identify stressful feelings and sensations when they arise. But whatis stress exactly?

Most simply, stress refers to the body’s automatic response to a wide range of strong stimuli, both physical and psychological. As Hans Selye, the doctor who first identified the stress response, put it, “The only way to characterize stress is to call it a nonspecific response of the body to any demand. No one can avoid stress. To eliminate stress completely would mean to destroy life itself. If you make no more demands upon your body, you are dead.”

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale made a similar point in a lecture I had the privilege of attending some years ago. One of the most revered positive thinkers of the 20th century, Dr. Peale told us the story of a parishioner he was counseling. The man was beside himself because of all the stress in his life, so Dr. Peale offered to take him to someplace perfectly stress-free. Elated, the man agreed. Dr. Peale drove him out to a country cemetery.

Considering it that way, probably none of us would really like to be without stress. And in fact, some stress can be good. Dr. Selye said as much, making a distinction between what he called eustress and distress – or good stress and bad. The trick for each of us is to create a balanced life by having more eustress than distress.

Part of creating such balance comes from learning ways of coping with stress. One of my personal favorites is the “progressive relaxation” technique, a meditation-driven activity described by Herbert Benson in The Relaxation Response. Others may find other “stress-reducing” techniques more effective – and there are plenty to choose from, from acupuncture to yoga, and everything in between. Each of us must find what works best for us exactly where we are in the here and now.

Many clients are quite stressed before first entering our office. Maybe they’re still not sure what to expect or have internalized negative beliefs about “going to the dentist.” This is another reason why we like to sit down and spend some quality time in conversation with clients at the first visit. As we get to know each other and as we provide our clients with more information, distress gives way to eustress. The time becomes productive, even exciting, as we begin to look toward how we will work together so clients can create their optimum health. And this is why we feel “sit down and communicate” appointments are so important throughout the treatment and healing process: to keep the eustress up and distress down; to maintain balance, as well as understanding.

As we go through this life, maintaining balance is a constant process. It is also an individual one. no one can know us better than we know ourselves. So we must learn to analyze ourselves and our lives. We balance our work with play, excitement with serenity, socialization with solitude. It isn’t always easy. but in the end, it is always worthwhile.

He who bends to himself a joy
Doth the wingéd life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

– William Blake


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