Are you creating ALL of your own stress?

By: Dr. Gary Huber

Posted 07/15/2021

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they'd be asked the "half empty or half full" question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired:  "How heavy is this glass of water?"

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn't change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes." She continued, "The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything."

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don't carry them through the evening and into the night. Remember to “put the glass down”

Consider the following:  Jim had a bad day. His wife was demanding, and work was rough with deadlines and unreasonable expectations, he may get angry or frustrated but this is temporary and should pass. But what if Jim gets up the next day with a chip on his shoulder over yesterday and caries a grudge. What if Jim stays angry for a few days or even a week. We start to say, “be careful around Jim he’s in a “mood”. If Jim keeps that anger for a few weeks we say he has developed a bad “temperament”. Jim gets used to the adrenaline and dopamine surge that is created in his brain by this mood and even though its negative the consistency and intensity of that mood becomes his new normal, it feels familiar and in an odd way comforting. He understands himself in this space. He keeps repeating this pattern of waking and finding his anger, putting it on like a favorite shirt and after a few months we describe Jim as having an angry “personality”. This transient emotion becomes a repeated pattern. A familiar way of life.

Neuropsychologists write volumes about this brain chemistry but simply understand the general process. At any moment we can DECIDE that an event is stressful, or we can decide that it is not, but it is in fact a decision and not a fact. This emotional turmoil is what triggers the HPA axis (brain) to produce cortisol and the amount of disturbance will be based on a few factors:

  1. Our sense of loss of control. Best way to drive stress is to steal someone’s free will or place them in a position where they have lost hope.
  2. Threaten their sense of self, their Ego. People who live in their ego are more likely to be fragile and easily upset by simple events. Their Ego always needs to be “right”.

Understanding that stress is a personal decision and goes a long way towards breaking down the revolving door of bad events leading to high cortisol. If we never let go of “the glass” or let go of negative emotions we will inevitably drive cortisol and that cortisol will inevitably kill us. A long, slow, painful, frustrating death.

Events in life simply ARE. If it’s raining today that is not stressful, it is merely a fact. Its simply raining. Our decision to have an emotional response one way or the other is a choice, a decision. It is how we interpret this simple fact.

Example: Your boss or your job may frustrate you and offer you a perceived stress. You have made a decision about the job, and that decision drives an emotional response of your choosing. Let’s say you’re in sales and the company’s policy on quota changed or their reimbursement package seems unfair. The reimbursement and the quota are merely facts. If we decide to RESIST those facts we are immediately creating our own stress. You are entitled to have an opinion about those facts but with that opinion comes with emotion and a result. If you don't like the companies’ rules and decide it’s not for you then move on. Option B is to stay and learn to understand the reason for those changes and work within the guidelines. Option C is to fight to change these guidelines but engaging this understanding removes the stress.

In any situation in life we really have only 3 options:

  1. Accept what is. Things simply are as they are.
  2. Work to change what is.
  3. Leave the situation and seek other options.

It’s really not complicated but the worst option is to stay in a situation, complain about it, make decisions about how unfair and egregious it is, whine about it to your friends, generate a ton of negative emotion to drive the brain chemicals you have become addicted to, and all of this is to merely serve as fuel to feed an Ego that always needs to be “right”. The reality is there is very little in this world that is right or wrong – there is merely opinion. Are your opinions and your inability to let go making you sick? Is this the driver of your pain and stress? Take a moment or even two and explore this in the quiet moments of your day. The world is cool and groovy if you find your groove and stop resisting what IS.

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