The Seriousness of Stress

Today, I was in a meeting, and an 88 year old man was talking about the stressors in his life and how he has managed to handle them. In the process of sharing he said something like, “Stress will get you pain; stress will get you cancer; and stress will get you dead.” On a day like today, when I was feeling a considerable amount of stress about some of the changes that are in the very near future, I was reminded of the seriousness of stress. Being a black woman, who is threatened everyday with harmful expressions (particularly of maleness and whiteness), I know that notwithstanding those threats, stress can be just as deadly, if not more.

Of course, I have carried my share of of stress in my lifetime. However, I have suffered the worst when I have taken on the stress of others, specifically when I took on other peoples’ pain. On the one hand, it is good to have compassion for others, and it is good to be there in times of need. On the other hand, I also know people who are going through stress because of self-destructive thinking and behaviors. Indeed, my upbringing has taught me to be there for others and to show empathy. But, when I show more care and compassion for those who are not willing or able to take care of themselves (and with a little honesty and effort on their part they could or should be able to take care of themselves), then I suffer from their stress, while  meanwhile they seem to go along as if nothing is wrong. It is hard to see others’ struggle, but it is even harder to watch someone who is under considerable stress and in denial.

I was grateful to be reminded today that “stress will get you dead” by someone who has lived through more than eight decades of stress. I appreciated his honesty and his vulnerability, and his ability to tell those of us who are younger that it shouldn’t take eighty plus years to learn how to handle stress. Stress is an everyday part of life, and I am willing to take on my stress, the stress that belongs to me. But, what I have to remember is that I do not have to take on any body else’s stress, and especially not when they are not able or conscious enough to admit that they are in trouble and suffering with their own stressors. Taking on their stress when for one reason or another they are inept or unable to even name their stress is, in fact, something that will get me dead; and it is a stress that I simply cannot afford.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

 

 

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Shoulda Been Gone: When Is Enough Enough?

Certainly, there are times when I have asked myself: why did I stay in that place, that job or that relationship as long as I did? Weren’t there signs or events that happened that should have made it easy for me to move on or move out? I suppose that out of a genuine need to feel that I did all that I could do in a certain place or in a relationship that I have struggled with timing an exit or an ending. Like many, I have struggled with drawing a line in the sand and letting it be. Leaving that line there or saying enough is enough in a place (such as a city) or even in an employment situation is especially difficult when others don’t want you to go or when they expect you to stay (perhaps stuck and unhappy in a city, a job or a relationship like ~ ahem ~ they are). Detaching, particularly where human relationships are concerned, is not always an easy or pleasant thing to do.

I don’t think my struggle with detachment is all that unusual. Compassionate, healthy, loving human beings want to make good decisions, and they worry about others’ feelings, not just their own. On the other hand, selfish, unhealthy, or worse yet, narcissistic, dishonest and delusional human beings could care less about how their decisions affect others; they want and justify what they want no matter what and no matter who suffers in the process, and they frequently inflict a lot of emotional pain and confusion upon themselves and others. How I appreciate displays of compassion and mindfulness. When it is a personal decision (and not the result of emotional or physical intimidation or violence), I respect that sometimes we as human beings keep trying or hoping for better situations or better behavior in people (all the while as we too are doing our best to improve or address our behaviors). Committing one’s self to gaining the best possible outcome is a very respectful, humane effort.

Nevertheless, back to my question: exactly when does one pack it all up and move on down the road? When is it time to let go of a place, a job, a person or even an idea (like a god or a religion) that is no longer fulfilling or that has run its course? There are times when people, places or things are only temporary; when they no longer provide us with a sense of meaning or safety. When that happens, it is time for me to let go, and I have learned that saying “enough is enough” is, at the end of the day, my decision. On the one hand, in making decisions of whether to stay or go, I often talk it out with others ahead of time, but it is not up to the situation or the person or the idea who is no longer enough for me to determine whether I should stay. A conscious movement away from a place, person or idea (especially one that is causing me unhappiness, stress, confusion or misery) is never easy, and to be sure, the act of severing ties with anyone or any thing can be accompanied by unbelievable grief, anxiety and loneliness. But, moving on, no matter what others might say or do to keep you from leaving, or pressuring you in to not doing what you want because they are afraid to end or bring closure to undesirable or outdated relationships with people, places or ideas for themselves (which is something I have personally experienced when exes and/or children are in the picture…and when it comes to gods or religion), is a very powerful act of self-love and self-affirmation. In a world that is constantly abandoning us and encouraging us to abandon ourselves and our agency and to conform to the status quo, it is important that we learn how to 1) take ultimate control of our own lives and choices, and 2) exhibit that power when necessary. When should you be gone from people, jobs, places or ideas that no longer work for you? Be gone when you have had enough, and only you can be the one to say when that is. The others, the ones who are left behind and not happy with you for moving on and taking charge of your own life and destiny will just have to get over it. Or not.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.