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'Tis the season

Are you feeling the stress of the season? The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, weeks that should be centered around family and friends, often isn’t. Christmas isn’t your chosen holiday? That doesn't matter. Between the end of November and the end of January there are 14 different religious holidays and a handful of secular celebrations, offering many opportunities for a customized season of stress. Or not.

 

“Michael thinks stress gets a bad rap. One definition of stress is to accentuate something, and accents are cool. So, when he thinks of stress he thinks of its happier connotations.”

 

That was an introduction Michael prepared for himself for a recent presentation when speakers were asked to submit introductions consistent with the meeting theme, Stress. We were reminded of that when we were talking about how quickly the year has gone, bringing us to the annual Winter Holiday Stress Zone. That is how we describe the days that begin at Halloween and end with January 2. And that’s not meant in a bad way.

 

Stress is a funny thing. Ask most people what they think of when they hear the word stress and you may hear things like stress management and stress relief, stress hives and stress headaches or maybe stress test or stress fracture. Not things to look forward to. If you do an Internet search for “stress,” the top results address psychological stress, stress and your health, and how to get rid of stress. The first mention of stress as a physical characteristic (“restoring force per unit area”) or anything other than a psychological or medical condition, is with the fifty-eighth entry. Yet stress is so much more than an inability to cope.

 

The dictionary stresses a different side of stress. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition of “stress” as a verb is, “to emphasize a point of discussion,” and as a noun it says stress is, “a special significance or emphasis attached to something.” In physics, stress is the controlling point between the extremes of strain and tension. We would be better served if we treated emotional stress like lexicographers or physicists.

 

Given his definition of stress accentuating things, when asked if he never feels stress “like everybody else,” Michael replied:

 

My first memory of the word “stress” is from whatever grade I was in, kindergarten maybe, when we started learning vocabulary and the teacher explained accents as “the syllable you stress” and that was how I was introduced to the word. In physics I learned about tension, force, elasticity, stress, and strain as attributes of physical surfaces. I guess from kindergarten to college, stress as a bad thing just never came up.

 

That probably puts him in the minority of how people view stress. It’s certainly safe to say that most people find stress distressing. That was once how negative stress was always addressed, as distress. Good stress, the kind that causes dopamine and adrenaline release (think roller coasters or watching a thriller movie) was known as eustress. Today, just saying the word stress is a stressor for some.

 

It would be a great thing to keep the bad side of stress entirely out of our lives, but at least for the last few weeks of the year let’s stress the good points of stress, the stress that releases dopamine, like during a rousing chorus of Jingle Bells. There is probably no good way to eliminate stress’s bad connotation, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to lessen its impact on our outlook on life, or that of those we love. Those we love. Those are whom we should be concentrating on during this season.

 

Among all the definitions of stress, the one best suited to these last weeks of the year is “a special significance or emphasis attached to something.” After all, ‘tis the season for something significant, isn't it?



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