Stress Science 101


A quick look at Merriam-Webster's online dictionary tells us about stress ( The most relevant definition for our topic says that stress is bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium. In other words, I feel stress when something messes up my day, my relationship, or my lifestyle. The forces that can upset my emotional applecart are around me all the time. I hate it when my emotional equilibrium gets tossed about. What shall I do?

As a therapist, I come to work each day ready to coach people through the stresses and strains of their lives. I can't recall a time when I actually said, "Well John, it sounds like the applecart which serves as a metaphor for your emotional equilibrium has been disturbed and perhaps tossed about." On the other hand, I generally say something like this, "John, do you think your stress has more to do with worry, or with anger?" Now if John is unsure, I throw out another therapeutic gem, "Um, stress is sort of a generic word; it usually means you are feeling some kind of emotional upset. Your stress may have more to do with things that aren't going your way and so you have a buildup of anger through the day. Or, it may be that you have a lot of things you worry about, which results in an anxious stress. The way to fix your stress is to figure out what the emotional basis for it is, and then deal with it there."

There are plenty of ways to deal with the effects of your stress. Experts suggest everything from stamp collecting to yoga. Along with those approaches, I suggest managing stress on the front end. That's right, I'm talking about prevention. The first step is to break down your experience of stress into emotional realms. This means specifically writing down the emotions and the causes. On a piece of paper, make your lists. At the top of the page, make a list of the things you are angry or frustrated with. Next, a list of what you worry about. And last, a list of what you might feel guilty about. Now you have a concrete beginning to conquering your stresses. Your next job is to take on each of the items on your lists and begin problem solving.

You're not alone. Don't be afraid to get some help with your problem solving. There is a famous Albert Einstein quote which says, "You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." We all know that two perspectives are better than one. Talk to a friend, join a local support group, or go to an online support chat. If you need more, a good therapist could help you sort your list in brief therapy.


By Charles Lawrence Allen, LCSW

Charles Lawrence Allen is a practicing psychotherapist, and the author of "Why Good People Make Bad Choices: How You Can Develop Peace of Mind Through Integrity." He makes his home in sunny Riverview, Florida, with his vegetarian yoga instructor wife Colleen, where they enjoy lots of healthy outdoors activities.

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