Sometimes a temper tantrum is the most appropriate response to upsetting people, events, or situations. Or maybe it’s the only response we’re capable of when we’re overloaded with stress, which Webster’s Ninth defines as “a state of … bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existing equilibrium.”
So being off balance also means being stressed. And change tends to put us off balance.
The Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale, also called the Life Change Index Scale, classifies the degree of impact that 43 different events—both positive and negative—are likely to have on a person’s life. Each event is assigned a numerical value, and the respondent is asked to check the events he or she has experienced in the past 12 months. Stress is often a precursor to illness, so the score not only indicates the amount of stress the person is under, but also the percent chance of illness:
|No significant problem|
|Mild Life Crisis Level with a 35 percent chance of illness|
|Moderate Life Crisis Level with a 50 percent chance of illness|
300 or over
|Major Life Crisis Level with an 80 percent chance of illness|
The authors of the test do advise that how an individual copes with stress is a contributing factor. But that shouldn’t be the only caveat here. Although it would certainly alter the existing equilibrium for anyone, a job loss (#8 on the list; 47 points out of 100) is likely to deliver a far greater dose of stress to someone who is the sole support of his or her family or who has invested much of his or her identity in a career than it would to someone whose part-time job is a source of extra pocket money.
Looking at stress solely from the point of view of causal factors seems shortsighted. As individuals—especially as individuals of considerably different personality types—we do not all react the same way and we are not all up to the same things in life.
Psychic entropy is the diversion of energy away from its intended source: our attempts to meet our goals or to be ourselves. It can be defined as “the degradation of psychic energy.” Psychic entropy occurs when something happens that we interpret as conflicting with or getting in the way of the carrying out of our plans. How important the goal is to us determines how much energy we need to mobilize to eliminate the threat to it. What creates psychic entropy, which is commonly experienced as stress, for one person may be only a minor annoyance, easily dealt with, for someone else. What gets in my way depends on who I perceive myself to be and what I’m up to.
This isn’t earthshaking news. But who I perceive myself to be and what I’m up to are probably determined, at least in part, by some deeply-held beliefs and drives I may not be fully aware of. And it’s those things we’re least aware of that have the most power over us.
We could all try to avoid stressful situations or learn techniques for better coping with them. But our hidden beliefs and drives will remain hidden, and no matter how vigilant we are, we’ll eventually run into one of them or trip over another. Instead, if we notice what diverts our energy and to what degree, we might then catch a glimpse of some of those beliefs and drives. We might bring them into conscious awareness. Often, this kind of noticing also has the effect of putting the situation into a different perspective. In that regard, observation may provide a better and more reliable coping mechanism than any other practice or technique.
Sure it’s important to recognize that some events tend to generate stress. But it’s even more important to know yourself and what’s important to you.
As an 8, I experience pretty much everything as getting in my way, so on my worst days, I’ve experienced life as a constant stream of stress-producing events. But simply being aware that that’s the way I am—that to a very great extent I’m the source of much of my own stress—really does lessen the impact considerably.
What about you? What gets in your way or tends to stress you out the most?