So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Eustress," or You Stress?

"Mental tensions, frustrations, insecurity, aimlessness are among the most damaging stressors, and psychosomatic studies have shown how often they cause migraine headache, peptic ulcers, heart attacks, hypertension, mental disease, suicide, or just hopeless unhappiness." - Hans Selye, endocrinologist (1907-1982)

It didn't kick in until about 12:30 or so on Sunday afternoon.  When it did it was like a mule.

One minute I was  listening to Jimmy Buffett tunes on the stereo and driving to the home of Aaron and Betsy Boudreaux...a tray or two of boiled crawfish and a couple of cold beers seemed to me to be the perfect ending to a long-awaited weekend with friends and loved ones.  Next thing I know, I felt like a bank of telephones were ringing and I had to answer them, while driving at the same time.

About two hours later I felt a little more normal.  As I peeled and pulled, I managed to figure out the source of what went so awry.  I again had taken on the demands I had set aside when I retired from day-to-day coaching.  I was dealing with an increased workload at the office.  On top of that my racing fitness was not coming along as quickly as I hoped; the Achilles' tendon injuries were healing but I could only manage a good 5K...on a 10K course.  While I was outwardly pragmatic, I was all stressed up with no place to blow.

"Charley, I was a little scared," I told my friend later that afternoon over a beer.  We had talked days before about mutual friends, pillars of the community, who transmogrify into a maelstrom of insanity during Easter weekend in New Orleans.  Excesses immediately following the Classic - a couple too-many brews during the five miles from City Park to the Quarter, or a couple extra drinks while spending the evening at one of my wife's favorite karaoke establishments, is one thing.  This particular couple's hotel passageway eruptions made mixed martial artists and WWE-types take a couple of steps toward the exits.

Sometimes stress can get to us.  But is stress one of those things, like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart would have said, we know what it is when we experience it?  Selye described stress (in 1926) being not only (as Emanuel Kant might have said) the thing in itself, but also the cause and the result of the same thing.

So if stress is the thing, and the cause, and the result, then is it bad?  Not necessarily.  When we exercise we incur a certain degree of stress.  If we allow ourselves time to RECOVER from that physical (and sometimes mental - if you've ever gone into a workout with a sense of dread) stressor we benefit from what is known as supercompensation.  Selye would probably consider that stress "eustress," or good stress.  If we load more stress before we completely recover we begin the process of slowly grinding ourselves down.  That, in my humble opinion, is when the burnout and the overuse injuries arrive.

On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to dwell on the minutiae of life, the small stuff we cannot control, or the things which we cannot immediately remedy, we incur bad stress, what Selye considered "distress."  Sometimes we can use "eustress" to overcome some of our own "distress;" but sometimes it cannot all be remedied through physical effort or exercise.

Sometimes it takes a little "me-time."  Sometimes it takes a "crucial conversation." (another commonly-used term would be the "come-to-Jesus talk")  But the distress, like the carbonation in a soda or champagne bottle, needs to be released in a careful manner, lest the darned thing explode - usually in a hotel hallway on a Saturday night, or a patio bar on a Friday evening, with stunned onlookers all about.

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