The Gift of Stress, Part 1


Note: This is part 1 of an interview with The Gift of Stress author, Zohar Adner.  For the audio of the interview, check out The Gift of Stress, an Interview with Zohar Adner.

Zohar Adner

Drew: Welcome everyone to another installment of Humor Talks with one of the thought leaders in the humor area.  Today we are joined by Zohar Adner, a stress release coach, the author of The Gift of Stress – How to Act on the Urgent Message That’s Trying to Save Your Life, and an all around great guy.  Welcome Zohar.

Zohar: Thank you, Drew, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Drew: I wanted to first start talking about something I know you’ve been working on a lot lately and that’s your book, The Gift of Stress.  I could summarize what I took from the book, I thought there was a lot of great stuff in there, but I figure you’re the one that wrote it, you might have some good insight as to what the book is about.

Zohar: Sure.  Basically, my concept of stress is that it’s an urgent message indicating that something important to you is threatened or absent, and that message will just keep getting louder and louder until you take action on it.

This is coming from a place of protection and concern for you–that’s all the body is trying to do.  It’s saying, “Hey, let’s help each other out. You’ve told me this is important, let’s take action on it.”  And until you hear it, it will get louder and louder, and that’s why stress has a really really big impact on our lives and body: the way we interact with each other and the way we feel, and is related to a lot of disease.

Drew: It sounds likes it’s like the engine-light in your car.  It may be blinking at first when it comes on, a notification your body is saying that something’s not right here.

Zohar: Yes, and then it becomes a really loud alarm, and then a blaze.

Drew: Like your engine on fire.

Zohar: Yes.  And so my whole concept is that instead of dealing with all the symptoms it’s causing, this blinking light, what can I do to get rid of the reason behind the light.  If it’s a car alarm making noise, don’t focus on what can I do to quiet it or muffle my ears?  Instead, how can I pay attention to what it’s trying to tell us, and then it’ll shut itself off.

To me that means you are no longer stressing out about the same thing, because you’ve dealt with that issue and can move on.  And stress is happy because it feels like it’s doing it’s job, and I know I’m anthropomorphizing stress, but it’s there to help, so let’s listen to it.  That’s what the book is about.

Drew: I think one of the key takeaways for me is the definition you give for stress.   What is that definition and how did you come up with it because it’s a little different than the Webster’s Dictionary definition.

Zohar: My definition of stress is that stress is a reaction that commonly occurs when the current situation doesn’t match the ideal version of that situation.  And I came up with it because when you talk to people about what they consider stress, there are a lot of symptoms that get listed or situations.  “This person’s stressing me out.” “My muscles get tense.” “My heart beats faster.” “I can’t sleep.”

Those are really just symptoms.  That wasn’t working for me when I was trying to do something about it because you have no idea what the problem is. By working with people and thinking about it, I came up with this definition.  And what it does is break things into very distinct categories that you can now look at and control.

Control is a big thing about stress.  You feel stressed a lot of times when you don’t have control, and here’s a way to get it back.

Drew: I think it’s a great way to shift focus from the symptoms of stress to the root of the problem.

The Doc is In

One of the passages that really resonated with me was the idea of control.  You say, “We always have the power to create our ideals, change them as we see fit and release them when they no longer benefit us.”  I think that’s such a strong thing to take note of:  you think about stress; stress is a mental thing.  We have the ability to control what stresses us out and what doesn’t.

Zohar: The first part of the definition talks about how stress is a reaction.  Our body is reacting in different ways.  It’s either sending messages or thoughts, to our muscles–all different parts of our bodies.  It affects our hormones and our nerve endings it’s all over the place.  There’s no part of our body that is immune to stress.

The reason why we’re stressing out is that it used to be that thousands of years ago, when we were being chased by something that was going to eat us, we’d get stressed  and we’d either live or die.  And if you lived, the threat went away and you calmed down and you were fine.  And these interactions happened for just a couple of minutes.

Our bodies and lives have changed a lot, but our bodies haven’t caught up to modern day living.  So what’s going on now is that it’s more than just “Am I going to live or die, am I going to be eaten right now,” it’s “traffic is bothering me” and things like that.

These are ideals that we created through society. The way we were born, what we’ve read, our friends, our family, they all shape where our ideals come from.  And these ideals are based on our values and what would you like those to be in our life.

So when you take a moment to figure out, “what’s going on here? what are my values?” stress is going to tell you.  Whether you are conscience of it or not, it’s going to tell you, “Hey you said this is important.”

We can take a look at them and say “These are my ideals, great!”  And now that you’re aware of these, you now have control over things at a level you didn’t have before, so what can you do about it?

Is it working for you?  Is it not?  Can you find a substitution for this, or is it no longer necessary?  Is it something you came up with when you were younger, or something someone told you about and upon further evaluation you realize it doesn’t work for you.  Having that awareness and that kind of approach towards what’s going on with stress is huge, absolutely huge.

Drew: Does that mean that if you get aligned with what you want to do and you’re happy with where you’re at, it’s possible to live a stress-free life?

Zohar: Well, if you live in a vacuum.  I call the book “The Gift of Stress” because it tells us more and more about ourselves.  That to me is part of the reason we are here, to learn more about ourselves.

If you are able to reach the point where there is no stress, life goes on and you continue interacting with people and somewhere along the way, something probably isn’t going to jive with you. So that will have this stress reaction and you get to evaluate it, “is this working for me or isn’t it?”

The better you get at going through this method, the quicker you’re able to evaluate it and deal with the issue.  You’ve heard the message and you’ve learned more about yourself and when you’re done with that, you can move on and your back to not having stress.

Drew: I think that’s a great point.  One of the things you mention in the book is eustress, in terms of the productive stress, the feeling that you have that helps you be productive.

In some of areas of business they talk about creating that sense of urgency so that you don’t fall into the trap that work expands to fill the time that you have allotted for; so you don’t give yourself the entire year to do a single thing because it will take an entire year to do it.

Instead, you have some deadline to keep you productive.  You definitely reference that.  So maybe it’s not always going to be a stress-free life because part of being productive is continuing to work and continuing to grow.

Zohar: A lot of people enjoy having some stress in some situations because they feel it motivates them.

Now the thing with eustress is that it releases the same kind of hormones as regular stress and it’s just a matter of how long it’s out in your system because after awhile it starts causing physiological damage.  It takes a little awhile, but you can’t always be doing that.

For me, when I work with people, I ask them, “Is this part of your life (lets say your office work), is this stressful to you?  Is this something you want to do something about?”

Sometimes people say yes, sometimes people say no.  If it’s not something you want to do something about, that’s fine.  Then it matches your ideal.

It may be difficult, there may be contention, there may be challenge there.  And there’s nothing wrong difficulty or challenge.  They help us build, they help us grow, they help us deal with different kinds of situations.

It’s when people are at the point of “this is really stressful and I don’t want it.”  That’s when there’s an opportunity to do something about it and here are the tools that are going to make that change possible–that’s that great little window of opportunity.

Drew: I have to admit I am a little upset with you as an author because your book not only makes you think about stress and re-evaluate your current situation, but it also makes you do work.

The whole second part of the book is really about using some of these principles you have, getting you to think about your own life and think through things to figure out yourself how you’re going to come out and reduce some of your stress.

It’s obviously great from a book perspective but at the same time it’s not a passive thing you’re going to read and it’s going to magically change your life; there’s actual work involved on your part.

Zohar: The stress is doing work on your body anyway; your body is doing something. So the quesiton is what do you want it to be doing.

I give people the opportunity in the second half of the book, when they’re ready for it, the things they can do that can make a difference and impact on their life.  When you’re going through this, you’re going to be doing it because you want to, not because someone is putting outside pressure on you.

Stress is your reaction, someone else can’t stress you out.  You have to accept what kind of behavior they have in that situation and determine “you know what? I find that stressful.”  If you’re stressed, someone else next to you doesn’t have to be stressed.  They may pick up on your stress and start reacting in empathetic way, but that’s them choosing to be empathetic and opening up to that and being more sensitive to it.  And if that works for them, that’s their choice.

But we also talked about stress and how it motivates us to do stuff.  In the book, I talk about dessert.  When you are going to get dessert, do you get all worked up about it?  Or is it something like “I feel like some dessert, so i’m going to go up and get some.”  I don’t procrastinate on it.  It just happens.  There’s some kind of inner motivation or desire that comes from that, and that’s a big thing missing for some people that feel like they have to have this stress in their life or they’ll just sit on their butts and not getting anything done.  So find out what kind of dessert you like–what’s going to really help you get some desire about that task you put off or makes you feel like you need that outside motivation.

Yeah, you know what? I am giving you a little extra work, but it’s going to feel so much better.

Photo by Forwardcom

The interesting thing is that this might go contrary to things you’ve been thinking for so long.  People might say you’re crazy because you like paying your bills or cleaning your house.  But maybe you’ve found that you like it.

Maybe you find it calming and like being aware of what you spend and that it helps you be more careful about what you’re putting your money towards.  Whatever it is, it’s engaging you in your life, and that’s huge.

Drew: I think that’s a great point you emphasize throughout, really identifying what’s specific to you.

For the second part of the interview, check out The Gift of Stress, Part 2.

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