The Stress of Not Being Stressed

The Stress of not being Stressed


We spend our entire lives avoiding stress.  We avoid negative events and are conditioned to avoid or even prevent pain to ourselves and the ones that we love.  I would like to explore a theory this week that we may not be stressed enough, at least the stress that we need to feel alive.  




The literature explores “good” stress, like the stress that helps you to work towards a productive goal like graduating from college.  Or the physical stress that you put on your body when you exercise, releasing hormones such as endorphins that help us to feel good.  This type of stress, called eustress, is supposedly good for us.  Of course, logic would dictate that if we have positive stress, such as eustress, we must have negative stress.  My opinion is that this is not the case.


Stress and Perception


Stress is just like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it.  If you look at stressful events as being negative, then they will be.  If, however, you change your perception of the event (this is very difficult in certain situations) and focus your mind into the present moment, then the stress melts away and you are left with…existence.  Being present.  Being mindful.  Being truly happy and grateful.


Stress as Challenge


We all crave real things.  With real things comes “real” stress.  The literature calls this stress acute stress.  Acute stress is a stress that is associated with something kinetic or in motion.  Something that is in the world around you.  This can be another person (human interaction), a sport that you play, giving a speech, acting, singing, fighting (as a sport), having a healthy argument, helping someone, etc.  These stresses, in my opinion, have started to escape us the more we transition into a faster paced, technologically dominant, and less human way of life.  We crave acute stresses but can’t find them, other than on television, through video games, looking at social media, and similar non-human and unnatural interactions.  The days of spending time talking on the front porch (what’s that?) and actually interacting (both good and bad) are being replaced with one click purchases from Amazon.


Chronic Stress


The non real stresses are the artificial stresses that we self impose on ourselves.  Stress that cannot physically and immediately kill you is called chronic stress.  That is the stress of feeling inadequate at work or at home.  The stress of not doing enough for others or for yourself.  The stress of not being good enough.  The stress of not making enough money.  These stresses are not real and should be avoided at all costs.  In fact, these stresses cause our bodies to become sick and tired, the details I will save for another time.  Suffice it to say that the chronic stress is what people suggest that you avoid.  However, the jump I am about to make is something that I am investigating and begs further discussion… not having enough “real” stress in our lives can become a chronic stressor.  The absence of real stress can be stressful in a chronic way.  Enter flow. 




The concept of flow is fairly simple.  Flow states exist when our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions are firing at maximum effectiveness and intertwined together to give us feelings of challenge, accomplishment, domination, fear, excitement, and fulfillment all at the same time.  If you have experienced a flow state, and most of us have, you know what I am talking about.  You could sell flow states for a lot of money.  But flow states can not exist without “real” stress.  I remember being underneath a ship in Pearl Harbor at night on a training exercise on a closed circuit (no bubbles) rebreather.  We swam through what appeared to be something out of the movie Avatar; streaks of what looked like paint in the water, lighting up the ocean like Christmas lights.  I remember the euphoria that I felt and how the limpet mine felt on my back and the subtle sound of my breathing apparatus firing and giving me oxygen (rebreathers use oxygen not, air).  This is an example of a flow state; but you don’t need to be underneath a ship in the middle of the night to experience it.  Some people experience flow states when they cook, surf, attend church, or hike in the woods.  Flow states need real stress in order to trigger them.


To Be Human Again


How much time do you spend doing real things?  Do you spend a lot of time dreaming about being active or taking up a real hobby?  How much of your time is spent using technology or mindlessly doing something that you don’t want to do?  Helping others and doing real things should be your mission.  This mission will help you to ignore or brush aside chronic stressors and allow real stress to drive your missions.  We all crave to be human.  Time to take back our humanity and control our technology and the chronic stressors that are linked to it.  




Identify the real stresses in your life and cut back on the chronic stresses.  Remember that real stresses are associated with flow states and chronic stresses are associated with disease and stagnation.  Avoid chronic stresses.  You can do this by writing down the top ten stresses that you have right now.  Chances are, they all will be chronic stresses.  If you have some real stresses, good for you.  These are the precursors to flow states.  Identify the real stressors in your life.  Remember that real stress is the stress that you get from doing things in the real world, not self manufactured stress that exists in your head or as a result of an unrealistic expectation or artificial desire or vision of something.  Find something that gives you real stress and execute it, especially if you don’t want to do it.  Make sure it’s something productive and hopefully helps someone else in the process.  As always, be grateful for the process of introspection and helping yourself become a better version of yourself.

“Lean into it!”


Dr. N