Handling Pressures: Reframing or Reducing?

    Ice cream? Yum! Ice cream only and all the time? Ugh! It is not that stress is bad for us, it is how we manage stress that matters. In using the stress equation, ice cream can be viewed as a “physical” pressure. The sugar and calorie intake can impact the body and bring on some duress. This varies by each person—someone with diabetes will experience the “stress pressure” of ice cream (even one serving) far more than a healthy eighteen-year-old. What we know about stress pressure is that the “right” amount is constructive, helping us grow, and can even lead to a special and very positive subjective experience called “flow”— when we are completely absorbed in what we are doing, losing track of time and emerging with a sense of productivity and satisfaction. Too much pressure can be destructive, causing a breakdown or degradation in our physical and/or psychological health. Too little pressure can also be maladaptive, as seen in the person who is bored with life and finding little challenge or fulfillment in anything. As this chapter unfolds, we’re learning that we can tap into and grow our various capacities and experience not only personal growth but also greater competence and confidence in handling stress and seeing the positive in it. This section will address the “pressure” side of the equation, and there are multiple ways of doing so: we can face and accept the good of the pressure and learn to excel because of it; we can work to lower the pressure; and we can increase our pressure when it is too low. Let’s explore each of these in turn.Excelling Under Pressure: Allowing and Accepting Stress There is a principle in clinical psychology that espouses to “go with the resistance.” This means that if a client is insisting on viewing a problem a certain way or is vehemently disagreeing with a therapist about quitting smoking or eating snacks at night, then it might behoove the therapist to agree rather than to stay in the back-and-forth cycle of conflict or disagreement. A therapist might say, “Okay, it’s your choice, I won’t fight you on the smoking cessation anymore.” The therapist might even incorporate a character strength to reframe and observe, “Wow, you are really persevering with this argument. You seem to overcome every obstacle I throw at you! And your zest and energy for your perspective are also quite high. These character strengths, perseverance and zest, are tremendously important strengths to have. Do you find that you use these regularly in your life in other ways?” Often, this results in a diffusion of tension for the client and some experience of an opening toward a new way of looking at themselves. Just as the person trained in the martial arts of judo or aikido knows to make use of the opponent’s energy rather than trying to overpower them or fight force with force, you can see and use the energy of stress. Instead of fighting against stress, see the good in it. Notice how it motivates you toward action. You would never accomplish anything in life without it. You wouldn’t push yourself to connect in relationships without it. You probably wouldn’t find much meaning and purpose in life without it. To deny that stress is present is to lose touch with reality, so an important first step in excelling under pressure is to acknowledge and name the presence of a stressor or a tension in your body or the challenge of a new work project. This is a way of subtly saying, “I see you, stress,” rather than avoiding it, denying it, or minimizing it. From this acknowledgment of stress, we move into acceptance. Just like the therapist accepting the client’s views, we can accept that stress is here in the moment. The seventhgrade student accepts that doing two hours of homework a night is a stressor that is simply part of the reality of going to school and important for learning, while the couple bickering at home about who is going to do the dishes this week can accept that everyday tensions like this are part of the reality of having a marriage and of the growth in any relationship. After acceptance comes action. So what will you do now with this stress? How will you take action in a positive way? The perspective here is “action with strengths,” finding a way to bring in one or more of your character strengths to see the stress in a different way. Recent research studies show we can use our strengths to manage our stress and improve our coping in life in general, including handling stress in specific situations, like at work (Harzer and Ruch 2015).
    TAKE ON STRESS THE “TRIPLE-A WAY” Consider one stressor in your life. Look at it anew using the “Triple-A Way,” in which you acknowledge the stress, accept the stress, and take action with the stress. How will you practice fully acknowledging stress—what will you say to yourself? How will you accept stress—what might be your self-talk in the moment when you are accepting the reality of stress without trying to get rid of it? What action will you take with your strengths to better manage this stressor? Name one stressor: 1. Acknowledge stress: 2. Accept stress: 3. Action with strengths: 
    Wadifa Club
    writer and blogger, founder of Dog food planet .

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