PenRei here, talking about something we all know about, stress. Never having lived through stress in life is impossible as a human being. If you don’t know what stress is or feels like, clearly you are a robot. Also, if you are a robot, that’s awesome!
So, stress, according to The Stress of Life by Hans Selye (apparently the first doctor to study stress) from 1956 is the consequence of the failure of an organism — human or other animal — to respond adequately to mental, emotional, or physical demands, whether actual or imagined. Sounds familiar? Of course it does! Moving on.
What has got me thinking about stress recently is how I’ve realized that since the end of university, I’ve learned to deal with it differently, and in very positive ways. There was a time in my life where almost anything could stress me out (lack of internet, a term paper due in 2 weeks, fear of being late for EVERYTHING), but yesterday, it dawned on me that I’m definitely not the same as I was before. Why is that? And why is it that some people have more stress than others? Why are some people able to deal with it easier than others? Is it just psychological or also physical? Of course, because this is me and science is just so wickedly awesome, let’s see if science has an answer.
According to our dear doctor Hans Seyle, at the basic animal core, the reason why we stress is a response to injury and illness. The quick adrenaline rush, the rapid heart rate, the blood flow concentrated to the brain all represent our bodies’ attempt to the cope with the process of being injured or sick. Chemically, most of the changes are associated with the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for localized adjustments), which prepares you for a fight or flight response by releasing cortisol (the stress hormoney). Depending on your own body chemistry (we’re clearly all different), everyone will feel the affects of stress differently. Some will actually secrete more of the chemicals and hormones than others, creating a much stronger response.
I’m sure many of us have noticed that during periods of prolonged stress, there are physical changes to our bodies. Over time, some people develop high bloog pressure and coronary heart disease. Yikes! I’m staying away from that business. The most common problem I’m sure most of us notice though is weight gain. Why? After a bit of research, the answer seems fairly simple and obvious once you know it (but I didn’t before, therefor, I learned).
- Cortisol automatically slows down your metabolism, which makes dieting of any kind completely ineffective.
- Your blood sugar levels will alter, potentialy causing the condition of hyperglycemia, which in severe cases could lead to diabetes.
- Stress can actually change where your body stores fat. In most cases, your body will be more likely to store fat in the stomach than anywhere else. CRAZY!
So, if stress is suppose to be related to bodily harm, and prolonged stress can CAUSE bodily harm, why are us humans screwed up enough to stress when we are not in bodily harm? Is this what we call an imagined circumstance? You know what I’m talking about! Let’s refer back to the stress of a term paper being due; you’re not going to die, get kicked in the stomach, or magically develop AIDS if you don’t hand in your essay in time. In the grand scheme of things, you’ll be okay and might have to suck up a 5% deduction if you hand it in a day late. That’s not so scary, isn’t it?! BUT IT IS! I remember being terrified of that. Why? Because I felt that if I didn’t do it in time, I wouldn’t get a good grade, and because of that, somewhere down the road, I would fail at life. Now that I look back on it, it seems pretty ridiculous.
In my personal experiences, I classify that there are two types of stress:
- Motivational stress: This one is the kind that gets things done. Ex: I’m the DOP on a film shoot and the AD is telling me we’re running late. Stress begins to set in because we’re shooting with daylight, the sun is constantly moving, and there’s not enough time. So, I take in a deep breath and let my stress hide the fact that I’m tired and hungry so that I can power through the day, knowing that I will crash in bed as soon as I get home.
- Just negative stress: I really hate this one! This one just doesn’t allow you to function. You feel like you’re life is going to fall apart and that nothing is in your control. Eventually, if I can’t solve the problem, there might be an occasion of going to a sound proof room to scream for 5 minutes, or a trip to the bathroom for some good old fashioned sobbing with toilet paper.
Two years ago, about 50% of my stress was motivational and 50% was negative. It is also important to note that about 70% of my time (including sleep time) involved me experiencing one of those two types of stress. Lately though, that has completely changed. I might now have a bout of negative stress once a year, and I find myself going full weeks without being stressed at all.
Yesterday was a perfect example. The other production coordinnator had to step out of the office for a couple of hours to take care of some personal matters, so I had to take on the mantle of doing both of our jobs for the show we were broadcasting that night. Let’s add that I’ve also just started this new job, so I’m not fully trained on everything. And since that’s not enough, there were also many technical problems throughout the day. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to hand in my work for the required time dealines, but I knew it was going to be ready for the show. The old PenRei would have stressed all day, worried that she would get yelled at and wreck the show. The new PenRei, she knew that some things were just out of her control and there was no reason to stress about it. Why worry if it wasn’t my job to solve the problem? So, I spent some of that time doing other work that I would have to do eventually. When the other PC came back, he was just a ball of stress, worried that not everything was perfectly on time (nothing against me, just the weight of doing both jobs is a lot for anyone). Then, he saw me and wondered why I was so calm. I simply said “the work will get done in time and the show will go on. It’s also not my responsibility to solve everyone’s problem, so I’m just doing what I can.” He seemed pretty surprised by my zen-like state. That night, as predicted, the show happened and everything I was responsible for was tied up in a nice little knot. He commented that he would like to learn my lack of stress ways.
Since this post has now passed the 1 000 word mark, and despite the fact I haven’t answered all of the above mentioned questions, it’s time to click on publish soon. Good job if you managed to stick around for the whole thing! I will end by thanking my previous boss at the NFB, AMR, who I feel taught me through her work habits that there’s no point in stressing over things you can’t control. Some times you don’t have a choice and it’s just matter of recognizing that and doing what is within the realm of possibilities. Thank you for this most important lesson!
StruggleBot PenRei out!