For the most part, we deal with stress ineffectively and destructively. We try to escape it with food, alcohol, drugs, sex, or possessions. We distract ourselves with television, gaming, internet browsing, or even people and relationships. We hide from it with denial. We overeat or starve ourselves. We make ourselves sick. We are embarrassed by stress and our avoidance tactics are endless.
Becoming overwhelmed by stress is an individualized process, but the results are common to all: we become less engaged in healthy, productive living. Our thinking and behavior degenerate from constructive to destructive, from creative to self-sabotaging. We procrastinate. We lose motivation, curiosity, enthusiasm. We feel confusion, fatigue, depression, anxiety, or hopelessness. There are serious second-order effects as well — many of the problems we have in life are the result of poor decisions made under the influence of overwhelming stress.
Medical research has concluded that many diseases and chronic illnesses are directly related to the inability to cope with stress — and not just minor, transitory complaints like headaches and colds. From over 35 years of clinical use on thousands of people, Graf Stress Management has found stress at the root of all types of physical and mental illnesses, from chronic conditions like infertility, fibromyalgia, and addiction, to debilitating or terminal illnesses like cancer, lupus, AIDS, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
In our experience, health problems generally fill one or more of three stress-related needs:
- An escape from a situation we feel we can’t cope with;
- A punishment of our self or someone else;
- A justification of negative feelings, such as fear.
Clearly, people don’t consciously choose to become ill from stress. No one decides, for instance, “I’d better get a headache so I don’t have to go to school today.” However, if we are unprepared for a test, our intelligence, which runs the body, can bring one on to keep us out of school legitimately instead of us compromising our value standards by simply skipping class. Likewise with more serious maladies.
Denying we have stress only hurts us. It is nothing to be embarrassed about but rather, the symptom of a problem to be addressed.