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Stress - the necessary evil

In a perfect world, people would be happy and wanting for nothing, today would be an enjoyable blessing and every tomorrow an exciting prospect to look forward to. Sometimes that's the way it is, for a while, anyway. Then an unexpected eventuality occurs and the smile is replaced by a frown. Maybe the surprise will turn out to be beneficial and welcomed, in which case the tension will ease as a state of relaxation returns. If, however, the new situation is a matter to be concerned over, the frown will deepen as possible ramifications are considered and a suitable resolution is sought.

That's stress for you. Every living creature experiences it. Without stress, life would simply be the experiencing of predictable happenings that no-one thought twice about because nothing ever came back to bite. That might not be such a bad thing for a tomato plant or a tree, but without a certain amount of stress in our lives, we humans couldn’t function the way nature intended. Stress keeps us on our toes, helping to sharpen awareness of what is going on around, primarily to ensure we aren’t disadvantaged by it. The level of stress is dictated by the seriousness of the issue in question, how it is likely to impact on us personally and other unresolved matters still worrying us. This is normal, but if the tension isn’t relieved, we suffer the consequences.

In the dim dark ages, easing stress was less of a problem because it was taken care of as a matter of course in the survival process. Tension built in preparation for the hunt, to launch an attack on a hostile enemy, or maintain the pecking-order within the tribe. The physical energy exerted during the chase and conflict released the stress and returned it to stand-by mode in readiness for next time. In a modern society, however, the classic hunter and warrior is a thing of the past and "defending one's castle" is rarely more than a poetic analogy. Yet, although the physical exertions of pre-history may be unnecessary in these days of civilised mollycoddling, when it comes down to a personal attack, whether by an unkind human or circumstance, the mind reacts in the same way it did with our stone-age cousins when they dug in to ward off an invading tribe. It prepares us to defend by tensing muscles, heightening senses and generally winding us up to face the forthcoming challenge.

The problem we have is that our battles are usually minus the physical exertion necessary to burn off the tension. Adrenalin is still produced, but the best we can do with it is clench fists and go red in the face while we blurt out verbal threats and abuses. At the end of the day, no-one really wins and both sides eventually retire mentally bruised, regretful and definitely the worse for wear. What both could do with is a run around the park or a challenging game of squash to release the remnants of that pent-up energy. Unfortunately, the remedy isn't always practical and usually gets a rain-check. The end result is an increase of bad vibes that cause an uncomfortable build up of agitation and anxiety. Most can take this in their stride, especially if the cause of major stress only comes along once in a while and can be dealt with rationally and without long-term repercussions. Unfortunately, there are those who can’t seem to resolve one stressful issue before another pops up, adding to the burden. And humans, even the most phlegmatic and carefree, can react in ways that seem totally out-of-character when the internal, ever-increasing level of tension reaches crisis point.

Obviously, not getting stressed in the first place would be the ideal cure, but everyone does at some time, so it’s a case of finding a way to cope until the reason for it can be de-fused. Admitting the presence of stress is the first step. Once it can be accepted that a particular situation is causing a degree of discomfort, the need for putting it right comes naturally. To deny being stressed even a little - or worse, not at all - is to invite the eventual overload we have talked about. The result is likely to be very damaging – mentally, physically and, as is sometimes the case, legally and financially.

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