This One Weird Trick Can Dramatically Lower Your
Stress Level (January 24, 2017)
Several months ago I quit doing something that I had done regularly for a good ten years. In short, I stopped perusing internet news sites -- even the respectable ones. Instead, I started looking at sites that carried only in-depth articles. Then after a while, I started reading print magazines again. Really. Now I actually SUBSCRIBE to a couple of them. Stick with me just a minute here, and you'll see where I'm going with all this.
I originally quit looking at so-called breaking news websites for a particular reason, and that was to avoid a certain extremely irritating ongoing news story that I found impossible to dodge any other way. And it worked. Well and good. But then I also noticed a considerable reduction in my overall stress level. I felt less irritable and became more patient and more pleasant to deal with generally. (Ok, some might dispute the latter. But I can say that I definitely became more able to at least start off interactions with other humans in a pleasant fashion, anyway.)
Is this all my imagination? Although much of my life is imaginary, this aspect of it probably is not. There is a lot of speculation and some solid research regarding how the typical internet news site presentation (with its alarmist headlines, excitable tone and sketchy content) negatively affects people. Among many other effects,none of them good, it markedly increases individual stress.
I have always had a bone to pick with the Stress Establishment. My feeling is that discussions of stress usually miss the most important bit about it. You always hear about how to mitigate the effects of stress, but rarely how to avoid it. Not ALL stress is inevitable. Focusing on diminishing the physiological effects of stress, while ignoring what causes or triggers it, implies you can't avoid it. When sometimes you can.
Now, stress IS a Thing. There are a number of changes that take place in your body when you experience stress, which are referred to informally as the fight-or-flight response. These include increased blood pressure, more rapid heartbeat, increases in muscle tension, hyper-alertness and the like, and they are quite tangible changes in your physical state.
These changes are measurable, testable, scannable and generally numerically crunchable, and hard data always gets scientists excited. For that reason, discussions of stress tend to focus on measuring those changes, what affects them and how, and generally sciencey stuff like that. But changes in physiology are not usually what regular people think of when they think of stress.
People think of stress as an attitude or an emotion that they find unpleasant and consequently would prefer to avoid. And in their unsciencey way, I think that Jane and John Blow have hit on something there. We should be looking a little harder at what triggers the Thing that scientists like to measure so much, rather than the Thing itself.
What triggers stress is our perception, conscious or subconscious, that something is a Threat. Perceiving a Threat -- or just imagining that we are perceiving a Threat, because the two are one and the same to the mind -- is what triggers the flood of hormones that cause the changes in your body that make up the stress response. Depending on the individual, anything from a bomb blast to a phone ringing can trigger a stress response - and as far as most of us are concerned, if we can avoid triggering that response, all data becomes irrelevant because we’ve already won the game.
With that in mind, try this experiment. Pull up a “breaking news” website of some sort, preferably one that you like, and scan the headlines. Hah! Did you feel your blood pressure go up? Mine did. Now, how did looking at that site actually benefit you? Are you better informed? Not really. You are already aware of ongoing issues locally and worldwide. The monitoring of that constant drip-drip-drip of panicky headlines and their short, shallow stories does not add to your knowledge or awareness. It only gets you worked up enough to need to read the next one.
The stress response is a very handy marketing tool. If you stress someone out and then offer them an opportunity to make that stress go away temporarily, you've got them. It’s very easy for those with an agenda to add to our list of Threats and use them to elicit certain behaviors from Us the Threatened.
This is not conspiracy malarkey. This is plain, flat-out business as usual for more than one industry. In fact, for business in general. A key rule of advertising is to create anxiety in the target audience and offer your product as a solution. Every business from beauty products to pharmaceuticals does this.You can bet that the nutrition industry does. Dodge the panicky headlines that scare you into needing to see the next one, and you'll see fewer of the accompanying ads as well. Sounds fine to me.
Don’t borrow trouble, Jesus said. and you know who HE was. Well ok, what he actually said was, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”. But it means the same thing. (One of you out there made fun of me a few weeks ago for attributing this quote to Jesus. In fact, it is from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:34. I don't remember who you are. But take THAT anyway, smarty pants.)
In summary, you won’t miss anything if you avoid those breaking non-news websites. Except a little stress. Good?
--dr. diane holmes
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