All stressed out

The word stress has become so commonly used in our society that most of us have become desensitized to it. Being reminded about the “dangers of stress” is kind of like being reminded by your dentist that flossing is really important – it brings out that inner 12-year-old who rolls their eyes, groans, and says, “Ya ya, I know”.

Stress has even become its own industry.  This includes books, supplements, audio products, retreats, therapies… It’s become such an accepted part of life that there are entire careers based on helping people manage their stress.

Is stress just a paradigm that’s been created to keep us worried and convinced that we need fixing? Can we exist without it? And, to get back to my main point, what’s the big deal anyway?

Photo by Tom Pumford

Google defines stress as A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”

Very demanding circumstances. That phrase brings another word to mind – pressure. I wonder if there’s another way to think about stress? After all, we know that changing our thoughts about things changes our emotions about them. And when we change the way we feel, we change the way we act.

Google also defines stress as “Particular emphasis or importance.” For our purposes, I like this definition better.

But first, before I get into the potential value of re-framing how we think about stress, let’s talk about why it’s so negative in the first place.

Here’s what we know…

Stress can:

  • Cause a myriad of health problems. For a thorough list of worrisome and avoidable issues check out’s article here  
  • Cause depression
  • Lead to obesity, either by using food to soothe one’s self or by raising cortisol levels (essentially a ‘stress hormone’) which can ultimately lead to weight gain. Often both of these are an issue
  • Disrupt sleep
  • Affect our relationships
  • Possibly even affect our “ability to learn, remember, and make decisions… and may be accompanied by increased levels of anxiety and aggression.” (Marcos Economides on 

The verdict is in – stress is bad. And it’s a big deal. Such a big deal, in fact, that it’s estimated that 75-90% of doctor’s office visits are for stress-related problems and complaints (WebMD). That is insane! And yet it’s clearly part of our reality.

So what?

So where do we go from here? Let’s get back to the concept of pressure. Pressure makes diamonds. As an athlete, I know that pressure can be the difference of the one-tenth of the second that wins the race.

While it may be easier said than done, I would challenge us to look at what it is in our lives that creates the thoughts and feelings of stress. Can we meet those things with the mindset of pressure instead and use them as a challenge to pursue our better selves?

Photo by Noah Silliman

I would offer that many of us may not have a choice. Stress is killing us, literally. I lost my own father to it when I was 16. I know that his death could have been avoided had a major life inventory been taken before his life was.

Be the master, or mistress, of your life. Live it, don’t let it live you. Our time here is short and we have lost touch with the ability to live and love in the moment. A shift in mindset and a change in how we approach our lives could make the difference in not only the quality, but the quantity of our life. Isn’t that worth it?