Stress is not the problem. It is your reaction to it that drains you of your life energy. Actually this statement is not completely correct. It is the stress. However, you also have a choice of whether to remain in the situation that is creating the stress. Let me explain.
Why would you get upset when someone cuts you off in traffic or suddenly pulls out in front of you? There was no physical harm. Your heart and respiratory rate may have increased. What drains you of your energy is getting upset at the person who cut you off. Maybe you have a story in your head about “idiot drivers” that is reinforced every time you get behind the wheel. Consequently, your body is full of adrenaline and you are physically burning energy that is completely wasted.
“The unenforceable rules”
Dr. Luskin, author of Forgive for Good, has a term for this phenomenon. He calls it “the unenforceable rules. You might wish that people would not cut you off or pull out in front of you, which is fine. However, when that wish turns into a demand in your head that, “I should not be exposed to this kind of bad behavior”, you now have a problem that is not solvable. Your driving experience is going to consistently be stressful when it could be a time to relax and enjoy the trip. You might ask, “What are my choices?’
First of all, if you you are going to assume the responsibility of driving that means you are going to have to deal with drivers who may not feel the same way. Texting, drinking, drugs, etc. are all potential issues or maybe the driver who upset you just lost her job. Taking the position that all drivers should perform well is not reality. So you have a choice to accept the fact that essentially every time you get in the car there is going to be multiple situations are less than ideal. Then you can relax, stay alert, deal with them and enjoy your trip.
Your second choice is to avoid driving? That is a choice. You may not like it. But it would solve your problem. The only choice that does not make any sense is to continue to be upset every time you drive.
I ran across these pictures a few months ago that help illustrate my point.
When your body is consistently full of stress hormones you have a much higher chance of becoming ill. This has been documented in hundreds of studies with one of the classic ones being published in 1964. (1)
Who knows how long he would have lived if he had remained in his business and political world but his story does illustrate a dramatic turnaround. He chose to decrease his stress. My observation is that he also took charge of his life and made a decision to improve his odds of staying alive.
I made the opposite decision in 1990 when I began my slide into a severe burnout and depression. I instinctively knew that I could not run from this and that changing to a less stressful career was not gong to be the answer. I was right and maybe not. I dove in and fully committed to finding the answer through every possible means. But I almost did not survive the ordeal. I got lucky and have been able to share what I learned from being in chronic pain for over 15 years. I did learn that I was the problem and that I had a choice of how to react to my environment. I have steadily improved this skill although I wish I was much better at it. I have much more stress on my plate now than when I buckled in 1990. I also have much more energy as I am not remaining unhappy about situations I cannot affect or change.
Perhaps a combined approach of cutting back a least a little while learning these tools would have been better decision. I don’t get a re-do. So here I am, incredibly grateful that I did make it and can share my story. Patients often tell me that I just don’t understand the pain that they are in. Fifteen years is a long time to be in pain and seven of those were living on a razor blade. I do understand that he or she might be suffering as much as I did; but not more. I have been given a second shot at life and have taken control of creating it. You have that same choice.
- Rahe RH, et al. “Social stress and illness onset.” Jrn Psychosomatic Res. (1964); 8: 35.