I think I posted about stress some time ago, but recent events have urged me to bring it up again. When I was in grad school, the obvious was brought to my attention. Stress is neither good nor bad. It just is. The thing that we are reacting to is the stressor and the reaction itself is stress. Still with me?

If I lift a one pound weight, I am not stressing my body. If I lift a ten pound weight repeatedly, I am stressing my body. The weight is the stressor, the fatigue of the muscle is the stress. I point this out because I hear so often how people want to reduce the stress in their lives. Oftentimes, it is not the stressor they need to confront but their reaction to it.

Having a deadline is not the problem. Tearing our hair out, yelling at the dog, and raiding the fridge might be something we should pay some real attention to.

Years ago, I remember reading an article discussing fear. The author pointed out that snakes and spiders are not scary. Several people can look at that snake or spider and a couple are not affected at all. A couple are frightened. A couple are fascinated. Therefore, it is not the object that is scary but our learned response.

I think the same goes for stress (stressors). Lots of people have deadlines. Lots of people have kids. Lots of people are trying to achieve some level of discipline with their horse, but some are “stressed” by it and others are not. In fact, some of these people are exhilarated by the experience.

I think, perhaps, something that sets us apart from each other is our expectations. Too many of us expect ourselves to handle certain situations with ease. Many of us think we can do something without thought. Having these expectations sets us up for failure.

As healthy horsemen, we try to meet our horse with an open agenda. The relationship comes first. Whatever we can accomplish above and beyond that is frosting… but not expected.

If we assume/expect that we should be able to cook, balance the checkbook, drive, raise kids, train horses, be employed, and respond to email quickly and do this all well… we have created lots of opportunity for an unhealthy stress.

It would seem the solution is obvious: reduce our expectations and change our views and therefore our responses. When faced with a deadline, take a deep breath and accept that you will do your best, but if you don’t meet it, life is still great.

If I suck at balancing my checkbook, then I need to just keep more money in there, in case I screw up. If I cannot respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner, and it reflects poorly on my business, then I need to hire somebody to do that for me. If I cannot cook a healthy meal, I need to find a solution.

What I won’t do is sit there and kick myself repeatedly because I am not doing everything at 110%. It is simply not possible to put yourself into all your projects completely. The more projects you have, the less you have to put into each of them. This is basic math. Set yourself up for success. Set yourself up to be able to deal with the stressors in your life in a healthy way, so that you come out of it stronger, fitter, and more balanced.