Lower Your Tolerance To Stress

For better or worse, most of you know that I love self-help books. Some are fantastic. Some are laughable.

“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson is a big series in the genre. Re-reading the original for the umpteenth time, I came across this chapter that stuck with me a bit…

It seems that we have it backward in our society. We tend to look up to people who are under a great deal of stress, who can handle loads of stress, and those who are under a great deal of pressure. When someone says, “I’ve been working really hard, ” or “I’m really stressed out,” we are taught to admire, even emulate their behavior. In my work as a stress consultant I hear the proud words “I have a very high tolerance to stress” almost every day. It probably won’t come as a surprise that when these stressed-out people first arrive at my office, more often than not, what they are hoping for are strategies to raise their tolerance to stress even higher so they can handle even more!

Fortunately, there is an inviolable law in our emotional environment that goes something like this: Our current level of stress will be exactly that of our tolerance to stress. You’ll notice that the people who say, “I can handle lots of stress” will always be under a great deal of it! So, if you teach people to raise their tolerance to stress, that’s exactly what will happen. They will accept even more confusion and responsibility until again, their external level of stress matches that of their tolerance. Usually it takes a crisis of some kind to wake up a stressed-out person to their own craziness–a spouse leaves, a health issue emerges, a serious addiction takes over a life–something happens that jolts them into a search for a new kind of strategy.

What do you think? True?

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2 comments

  1. People with a high tolerance for stress make this world go ’round, so it’s not surprising we admire or emulate them. If you have huge aspirations I would imagine not fulfilling your goals may be worse than being stressed.

    Everyone’s plans change during a crisis, if you’re stressed or not, and can lead you to look at your life differently. But can you blame someone before that crisis for trying to reach some goal of theirs? You can see it go both ways. Maybe a crisis jolted someone to realize they aren’t working hard enough for their family, and they need to take on more responsibility.

    I think I actually like the idea of working to your stress level to feel content. Now if someone says “Make me tolerate more stress!” then you need to sit them down and do some reevaluating. Although Sloth is a sin that’ll kill yah, and you know how much I love early Christian teachings that can be turned into movies.

  2. I know what you mean, and for the most part I agree. I had the same reaction when I read this.

    Stress is not going to be eliminated.

    But what I wonder is: why do we automatically equate stress with hard work? They are not the same thing.

    At times I think the lesson is inferred that if you are not stressed than you are not working hard enough. I don’t think that is fair or healthy.

    I also do not think that level of stress and level of success (in any area of life) necessarily have to correlate.

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