Stress: Is It Relative to How We Carry It?

Is there anybody reading this Week-Ender who has never experienced stress?        

OK, so maybe if “The Most Interesting Man in the World” is reading this, maybe he would say no; or maybe Bond, James Bond; or Lara Croft, Tomb Raider--Angelina, if you’re reading this, you never stress, right?

But for those of us off the movie sets, those of us in the throes of reality, we who are battered by everyday life, we feel stress caused by so many different aspects of real life that we lose count.

I don’t claim to be an expert on stress, although I expect I’ve experienced it in its many forms as any other average American.  I think it’s safe to say that work, the kids, money, faith, aging, our appearance, world peace; all things big and small can cause each of us stress according to our ability to withstand it.

We all lose sleep over things that we feel we don’t have control over.  That stress can have devastating effects on our bodies and on our families and friends.  Numerous studies have linked stress to maladies such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, headaches, depression and anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s disease and many others.

I heard a story the other day about how to handle stress that, I think, is worth sharing.

A young lady confidently walked around the room with a raised, half-full glass of water in her right hand while leading a seminar and explaining stress management to her audience. Everyone assumed she would ask the ultimate question, “Half empty or half full?” She surprised them all.

"How heavy is this glass of water?" she inquired with a smile. Answers ranged from 8 to 20 ounces. 

She replied that the absolute weight doesn't matter; it is relative to how long she holds it.

“It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm.  If I hold it for a day, it will begin to feel like a 50-pound dumbbell,” she said. “In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

That's the way it is with stress, she told her class. “If we carry all our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burdens become increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on.”

You have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden--holding stress longer and better each time. 

The other thing I’ve learned about stress is that there are just some things--many things, really, over which most of us simply have little or no direct control--world peace, man’s inhumanity to man, the price of gas.  Then again, we have more control over many things that, at first glance, it may seem like we don’t.

For example, world peace may be out of our reach globally, but we can promote peace within our scope of influence and you never know how far forward those little actions will pay.  We can’t control how people act; but we can control how we respond to their actions. We don’t have direct control on the price of gas, but we can adjust how we use it to reduce our cost. 

The term “control” is relative; there are different degrees of control and it is a fluid process.  Conditions that give us control of something today may change and leave us with a different level of control tomorrow.

So, in my humble and non-clinical opinion, controlling the stress of life means constantly reassessing your position and determining if you need to change how you handle it.  Just like with the glass of water, when it gets heavy, put it down, rest your arm, walk around it a few times and pick it up from a different angle.

The stress may still be there, but you can carry it with renewed vigor.

I also ran across some snippets of advice that carry on this theme of “that which does not kill you makes you stronger.”

1.    Accept the fact that some days you're the pigeon and some days you're the statue; some days you’re the bug, some days the windshield!

2.    Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

3.    Drive carefully . . . It's not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker.

4.    If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.

5.    It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

6.    Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time; then you won't have a leg to stand on.

7.    Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

8.    Since it's the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.

9.    The second mouse gets the cheese.

10.    We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.

So I raise my half-glass to you Week-Enders and wish you a relatively stress-reduced day.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email