Negativism: A Sign of Stress
Name an activity involving someone—anyone—dealing with job, home, family, children, friends, community and life in general, and you will find some level of stress in one or more areas. Stress is the body’s defense against changes that occur in one’s physical environment. Stress is a person’s sensitivity button saying, “There’s a problem which you need to correct.” It can be caused by threat, peril, intimidation, insecurity, self-doubt, unhappiness, sickness, and by one’s mental state in the way they view and react to problems that affect their lives. It is this reaction that generates stress.
Following my retirement from teaching, which is a highly stressful job, I thought I’d found the gravy train and there would never be any reason for me to be stressed out again. Thus, I never gave much thought to stress in my life except that it made me feel depressed and blue. It tensed my neck and shoulders, sometimes robbing me of restful and healthy sleep. I didn’t bother considering that something was causing the stress and perhaps needed my concentrated attention to overcome it—at least not until after my nasal surgery.
Following my first post-operative visit to my doctor I realized I hadn’t been my controlled self in his office, but rather, I was a negative, complaining person who possessed a disposition that wasn’t actually me. The office visit was the follow-up after seven days of sheer misery and discomfort and my dialogue went something like this: “On top of the surgery I developed the flu and a frightening attack of asthma that left me one breath away from death. With my nose plugged so breathing through it was totally inhibited and my head feeling like a stuffed cabbage, I was already stressed to the hilt. Then add the flu that further closed off my air-flow and the asthma attack that made me write out a revision to my last will and testament, and you begin to form a picture of what was happening to me.” My stress took control by way of anxiety, fear, sleeplessness, and discomfort; all of which I tried to explain to my doctor. It didn’t meet with his routine that kept him on a time-frame with his other patients. He ignored me as best he could.
Truly, when a person has a problem, whether minor or major, they definitely need someone to talk to, someone who will listen without being judgmental. In order to find such a person, one may have to be very selective. When I reached out to my doctor, he couldn’t—in the least—identify with what I was trying to share with him. It wasn’t just the words I was saying; it was fear, concern and deep stress I was feeling. Since I had no control over the length of time it would take me to heal from my surgery, I needed kindness, understanding, and reassurance that I would be okay. When I didn’t receive any of those helpful responses, I left his office, silently voicing the chant that has carried me through several days of pure misery, discomfort and fear: “This too shall pass.” And, “Tomorrow I will feel a little better than today.” Living one day at a time has been my schedule while I look forward to tomorrow because each day that passes will bring me closer to healing.
After I left his office, I was sure he and his nurse viewed me as a complaining old lady, and truth be told, I was, but there was good reason for it, which my doctor obviously didn’t recognize: stress. I needed a compassionate pat on the back, a kind word that assured me I was going to be all right. Instead, I left there feeling worse than when I arrived because now my defense mechanism (additional stress) that wants to protect my image unto myself and others had kicked in.
I discovered an important fact about stress from that visit; negativism is a noticeable side effect of stress. When people complain, there is a reason. They are looking for answers and hope that by talking to someone they will unravel the problem and find helpful understanding and a resolution. Further, when a person starts pouring out or unloading complaints about any subject or situation, then you can be sure they are under the influence of some form of stress. If the problem that causes the stress is out of the control of the stressed person for uncertain or long periods of time, they may develop additional defense mechanisms to camouflage or lighten the stress, such as: rationalization, intellectualization, projection, repression, denial and perhaps a whole assortment of character traits that aren’t normal to that person’s usual personality.
Depression follows stress when the existing problem presents little possibility of being solved or the stressed person sees no hope of solving it. There is a gradual decline in emotional health which eventually takes its toll on physical health. (Stress causes high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, depression and apathy along with many other health problems.) Knowing how detrimental stress can become, it should be reason enough to strive toward removing the stress altogether by solving whatever problem is involved.
Some folks seem to be born with a positive outlook and are challenged by problems, while others feel totally helpless with every problem they face and don’t seem to know what direction to take. The late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once wrote: “Inside every problem is its answer.” From that perspective, I strongly advise everyone who reads this to strive for healthy mind and body by—not avoiding problems—but rather, by tackling them with strength of purpose to resolve them. Focus on the problem, focus on the desired outcome, focus on the steps needed to meet your goal, and then follow through with a determination that can’t let you fail. Turn your problem inside out with positive steps toward resolution. Never give up—that is the key to success.
© 2009 Jeanette Cooper