After completing a research residency into stress and its treatment in the late seventies, I entered practice feeling as if I had some of the tools to help people cope with stress. It was my hope that those tools would come in handy, as stress is a major component of back pain.
For years, I taught stress reduction in schools, community colleges and private businesses. I wanted to show people how stress was a preventable cause of illness, and I hoped to give people strategies for reducing it. The courses were well received and had modest attendance but never really caught on. It seemed I was always preaching to the enlightened. Most of the attendees were familiar with stress and were simply seeking more information. What became obvious over time was that those who had the most to gain from what I had to say were the least likely to attend my classes. I had to ask myself if I was presenting the right message at the wrong time or simply the wrong message. In retrospect, it was a bit of both.
We are finally, as a culture, beginning to accept that our frenetic pace of life has a high price, a price that we pay in both health and happiness. More importantly, I also realized that the concept of stress was full of negative imagery. Stress is treated like a contagious disease by many authors. We get stress from others and it’s always bad, it’s a problem to be eliminated, conquered or at least avoided. So, in the end, who really wants a course to find out that they have yet another problem that needs fixing?
The message that I wasn’t hearing from those non-attendees was this: "DON’T GIVE ME MORE PROBLEMS TO DEAL WITH, GIVE ME SOLUTIONS – OFFER ME SOMETHING I WANT”. They didn’t want stress talk, they had enough stress, what they wanted was the opposite.
But what is the opposite of stress? How is it when we’re not feeling stressed? In all my reading, I had never really come across a simple description of what "not stressed” was. Was feeling not stressed just feeling normal? Or was it being in control. Or feeling rested? Apart from biological descriptions of what a non-stressed state was, there was no description of what it felt like. What ever "not stressed” was, that’s what people wanted, indeed needed.
About four or five years ago it dawned on me what the opposite of stress is and that is BALANCE. Stressed people feel unbalanced, their life has too much of something and not enough of something else. The big problem is that those somethings and something else’s might be different for each of us. In the last few years, balance has become a hot topic with many prescriptions for finding it, even a television show devoted to it. Seeking balance is a most worthy pursuit; it can improve the quality of your life and probably its length. But balancing is a dynamic thing just like skiing or riding a bike, you must respond to constantly changing terrain and circumstances. It requires engagement, and a willingness to "dust yourself off” if you lose balance and take a fall or get off track. I like to think of the word responsibility as being hyphenated, "response-ability”. The better and more willing we are able to respond to our circumstances the better we are able to maintain balance.
Talking about what stress isn’t may seem an odd way to relate to balance. We know however, that stress is a major cause of illness; so by inference, finding balance is a major path to health.
Dr. Ken Pepperdine is a Chiropractor and owns Southcare Chiropractic in Nanaimo. His number is 250.755.1554