They have the same function. Let’s start with pain since we understand it better. It’s a physiological alarm that informs the body of impending or sustained injury. It’s critical to our survival. It’s not pleasant but it is necessary. Its purpose is to protect against harm.
Stress fulfils the same function at a mental level. It warns us when situations require attention and focus. It enables us to cut through the haze of the habitual and act with intent to resolve the tension. It warns us that the current thinking patterns will not be sufficient to deal with the situation.
For some reason, although their function is similar, we do not respond to them the same way. With pain, you immediately withdraw or change the course of action, favour the body part or slow down. With stress, we believe it should be pushed through, prolonged or left unappreciated.
This leads to adrenal and cortisol complications in the body, hyperactivity, and eventually burn out. If we ignored pain in the same way, we would have complications like severe burns, infection, septicemia, joint immobilisation, amputation, etc.
We don’t because we understand what pain expects us to do. Stress is more ambiguous.
Perhaps there are three approaches we might consider:
- Intervene. Do something about the stress-inducing factor. Alleviate your workload. Reprioritise. Drop some of your flexible commitments. (Take the pressure of the limb.)
- Surf the wave. You do not have control over the waves. You do have the ability to rechannel the energy it creates into a new, positive direction. It requires some skill and the right attitude, but it can be done. (Keep the heat source at a safe distance.)
- Change your perspective. There are some things we cannot change. It does not help to leave the warning light shining on the dash as a constant distraction. Play the hand you’re dealt. Make a decision with the information you have and the tools at your disposal. Do the best you can. (An amputated limb after an accident.)
Stress is there to serve you. Give you a heads up when you need to pay attention. Use it.