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April 22, 2008

4/1/08 Stress Disscussion

On the first of April I held a meeting to discuss stress and how it affects student’s lives. Students were invited to come discuss and each a free lunch.

During our lunch meeting 5 graduate students joined me for lunch and we had an informal discussion about stress for a straight hour. After the meeting I invited other grad students to share in the left over food. As a result I have another hour of talks about stress with 5 or 6 other students who weren’t at the original meeting. When all the food was gone I cleaned up and looked over my notes. Here’s my impression of the conversation.

What is stress?
• It can be the things that gets you up in the morning..
o We spent a good bit of time discussion the difference between good stress and bad stress. Is pressure sometimes a good thing? Often a bit helps. Is excitement the same as stress? On a certain level it is but some were very hesitant to associate the two. Some also rejected that idea that being under pressure is a positive way to get things done. In the end it seemed like the conversation lead us to the idea that stress itself is neither all bad or good. What is important is how you manage your stress.

• Stress is anxiety.
o Stress is running things over and over in your mind.

What causes stress?
• Not having control or power in a situation leads to stress. (no money, no voice, no resolution in sight)
• Expectations (both internal and external).
• Personal politics. (is someone mad at me? Who offended who? Office politics etc.)

What do you do to remove stress from life.
• Admit that it exists. Admit to how you are feeling. Express your feeling.
• Give it up to the universe or God.
• Exercise. Walk the dog, manual labor, fresh air, dancing. (everyone agreed on dancing)
• Watch TV, drink a bear, smoke pot.

General notes about the conversation.

We talked a fair bit about weather a momentary break from stress was beneficial in the end of if it simply pushed back the inevitable.

It was suggested that some activities wash you clean of stress and let you move ahead with a clearer mind. Other activities actually fill you up with positive energy as well wash you clear. One person mentioned yoga, another mentioned prayer, or meditation. These things not only give a moment to let go of stress, but also seem to add a positive energy. I have heard a definition of stress that equates stress with the difference between what you want to do and what you have energy to do. We talked a few times about what are the things that increase our tolerance for stress. What keeps us from boiling over. One stressful situation can elicit many different responses from the same person depending on what else has happened that day or that week or even that year. One person brought up these responses can be habit forming. Once we start to respond to stress with depression or anger, we might be more and more likely to keep doing that. Or vise versa.

I noticed that happiness kept creeping into the conversation. As though without anyone saying so, happiness was synonymous with a stress free environment or life. We would quickly and seamlessly in conversation move between what removes stress from my life to what makes me happy. That thinking brought the conversation to the sort of mid-western protestant ethic that happiness is somehow bad. Or having too much is somehow wrong. Someone advised focusing on what you want out of life rather than what you don’t want. Then there was a response that to try for what you want is too scary, what if you don’t get it. To dream big or to be open about what you want can lead to hurtful disappointment. I thought this related to the idea of expectations bring on stress. I wondered aloud how could we dream big and not have expectations. Someone also mentioned that in the Midwest its good to not sound too smart. The opening phrase, “I don’t know anything really, but ….? Shows a sort of hesitance to be confident and comfortable. Here I think we were getting at the work ethic idea that to be free of stress is to be lazy.

Someone mentioned a PBS documentary about stress that looked at the difference between the stress of poverty and the stress of say a CEO. The person remembered that according to PBS stress of poverty released different chemicals in the body and was more degrading to the body and mind than stress of the CEO.

Everyone seemed to have a personal relationship with stress and had thought about and talked about stress in the past. Though there were many different ideas about stress and dealing with stress there seemed to be a kind of comradery that is formed around a challenge we all face.

~Travis Freeman