We know it from its crushing grip. We identify it by its crippling weight. Its not so subtle waves of exhaustion and overwhelm. Its telltale undercurrent of anxiety about the future mixed with paralyzing fear that the other shoe is about to drop.
Stress has become such a part of our daily existence, it’s hard to imagine there was ever a time when it wasn’t considered a suitable explanation (or excuse) for our discontent. In today’s world, stress feels like a disease to which we must resign ourselves. A socially acceptable sickness for which there is no cure. A chronic condition we must simply learn to live with, just like everybody else.
But what we often fail to see in the midst of all our anxious hand-wringing, is that stress isn’t actually the problem.
It’s the symptom.
Hans Selye, the Austrian-Canadian physiologist and researcher who first coined the term “stress” in the 1930’s defined it this way: “stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”
Put another way, it’s not the events in our lives that cause the stress– it’s our resistance to them.
It’s not our circumstances; it’s our unmet expectations, tangled up in our ideas of what should have been.
It’s not the changes, themselves; it’s our refusal to accept them when they arise.
It’s not that we are powerless; it’s that we are choosing to honor the “devil we know” at all costs, even if that means resigning ourselves to a life spent forcing square pegs into round holes.
But the truth is, stress isn’t a sickness to manage– it’s a symptom of our greater dis-ease. A sign that our old ways of doing things are no longer working. A signal that we’re being invited to grow or transform in some major (and therefore, uncomfortable) way but are refusing to answer the call.
We can only ignore our life’s whispers for so long, though. Eventually, we must answer them. Because in the wise words of Pema Chodron: “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.”