Changing Our Individual Responses to Stress
Different circumstances in our lives require us to respond in a variety of ways to meet the challenges they present. Sometimes we need to be able to push ourselves – to extend – and other times we need to be able to pull back – to contract in response to stress. It can be hard to know which of these is the best response in any one situation. How can we get better at knowing when to extend or went to contract?
We extend ourselves when we push ourselves beyond what we want to do. We work late nights, burn the midnight oil on assignments, look after someone in need or drive a long distance to be of service to someone else. These are all things that we do because the circumstance requires it, not because we want to; we extend ourselves beyond our normal limits for a short period of time.
Relaxing and building ourselves
At other times we contract; we have a quiet night in; we take a day off from work, we don't do things that other people expect us to do, we say ‘no' to the demands that are placed on us, and we say ‘enough' rather than extend ourselves one more time. In this way we stay within our limits and conserve energy, building ourselves rather than running ourselves down.
What to do about our response to stress?
Sometimes it can be very hard to know whether a situation would be best served by us extending ourselves or contracting. Would I be better writing this assignment all night to get it out of the way, or do I need a break? Do I answer this email from my boss late at night or do I wait till morning? Do I make this difficult phone call now, or do I wait until I am more prepared?
It can be hard to know what to do, but one thing is certain; when you are stressed and tired you lose the ability to make good decisions about whether to extend yourself or whether to contract.
Further, there is some element of personal preference about this too. Some people are more comfortable extending themselves as a response to stress, often way beyond what is healthy for them. Other people are more comfortable in contracting and find it hard to extend themselves for any sustained period. When the situation calls for us to act in a way which is different from our preference, it can make it doubly hard to choose the right action, and then to do it.
Making a choice
So the question is not really ‘do I extend myself or contract myself', but rather ‘am I in a relaxed enough position to make a choice about this?' If that's the case, it might be then worthwhile to relax enough so that you can make a choice – a considered choice – about whether to extend or contract.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
– Tim Hill
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