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Avoid the Stressor by Fleeing
By Neil Nedley, MD

There are other unhealthy ways to deal with stressors. Another is escapism. This technique may find you making a 4 a.m. call to your 24-hour travel agency. You im­pulsively reserve a seat on the next plane to Tahiti. While you are soaking up the sun on the exotic beach, it may seem that es­cape has worked to your advantage. You are free of the raucous neighbor and are really enjoying yourself!

However, when you return home, the 4 a.m. concerts continue unabated and real­ity sets in. You are fired from your job for an unapproved absence, and the credit card bill from the trip arrives. In no time, your stress level is higher than it ever was. In­deed, escapism is not an optimal way to respond to a stressor. It can take a higher toll on your health than the original stressor did. It is easy to see escapism as the only strategy to buy some time in the face of an overwhelming situation, but the end results can be devastating.

Many see escapism as an extension of ignoring a stressor. When you mentally ig­nore a stressor, you remain in the environ­ment where the stressor is confronting you without addressing it. The stressor contin­ues to work on your physiology no matter how much you think you are ignoring it. When you physically escape from a stressor's sphere of influence, your body can get some respire. The trip to Tahiti illustrated this. Yet, if the escape was impulsive, it often includes a hefty price tag.

Most of the time escapism occurs only on a mental level—and is an extension of ignoring the stressor. The person remains in the presence of the stressor, but turns to a mind-altering escape to help forget about its presence. Such escape can be as diverse as watching television or taking a mixed drink. This type of escapism is worse than a futile attempt to ignore the stressor. Since you are still in the stressor’s domain, the effects of stress on your body are perpetu­ated and the escape routes themselves are had for your body and mind, sapping your reserves further.

To be more specific, alcohol impairs the brain's frontal lobe where decision-making and constructive solutions are based. View­ing television, even in its highest form, takes time away from activities such as exercise that could help enhance your coping re­serves or defuse stress. More on exercise later.

            Sometimes avoiding or removing a stressor is relatively easy; other times it is difficult or impossible. Consider the case of a nicotine addict. After three unsuccess­ful attempts at quitting cigarettes, Bill rec­ognized that every relapse occurred when he went to a bar for a few drinks after work. Clearly, he recognized that drinking alco­hol in a bar is a significant stressor for him. After all, it has continued to undermine his best resolutions to put smoking behind him. If his jaunts to the bar are a rare occurrence, it may be relatively easy for Bill to decide to completely avoid that questionable environment.

Consider Sue. She is having problems with a fellow manager. Even though she and Renee are in equal positions in the busi­ness, their mutual disrespect is obvious. They are rarely in the same meeting with­out a subtle undercurrent of demeaning insinuations. Clearly, Sue's stressful predica­ment is harder to deal with than Bill's smok­ing problem, since she can't avoid or remove a workplace stressor. She could try covert practices to get Renee fired, but it is typically a costly process both in terms of time and effort—not to mention the emotional resources expended. Often the only prompt way to remove workplace stressors is to quit the job (although changing shifts, transfers, and other options are sometimes available).

When confronted with the choice of walking away from the job or putting up with a stressor, many people opt for the lat­ter. The results can take a devastating physi­cal and emotional toll.

These cases show a clear need for op­tion two—healthy adaptation. Let's exam­ine how we can increase the likelihood of identifying and implementing constructive options.

Plan Properly

Proper planning and organization are key parts to healthy adaptation, since im­pulsive solutions typically fail and are nei­ther healthy nor adaptive. Proper planning involves first determining what it will take to implement a strategy before you begin. If the option appears both reasonable and viable, then you can move to the next step in the planning process—specifically deter­mining the optimal strategy to put into place.

Proper planning and organization are also important ways to avoid stressors. You likely can identify times in your life where you were confronted with major stressors only because you failed to plan properly, for example, you are stressed when you are late to work because of forgetting your lunch and having to go back.

Long-Range Systematic Stress Management

As we have discussed, the optimal ways of dealing with stressors include avoiding them, removing them, or getting them to work for you through healthy adaptation. If none of these approaches work in your specific circumstances, are there constructive steps that you can take to maintain low stress levels in the future on an ongoing basis?

            Fortunately, there are additional steps that can be taken that will have an ongoing effect in combating stress. The most pow­erful include lifestyle habits that help de­crease the effects of stress, enabling us to live successfully in the presence of stressors.

A Four-Point Lifestyle Attack on Reducing Stress

Let's look at a description of a lifestyle that will reduce stress on an ongoing basis. A number of established stress-relieving practices could be integrated into our daily routine that will help us in all aspects of out being. Stress affects us in all of these aspects, as listed in Figure 1.

The four aspects of our being

            Strategies to deal with stress need to address each of the four aspects in the fig­ure. In this section of the chapter, we will look at each of them. The first one is the physical aspect.

DepressionFrom the book
Depression, the Way Out,
Nedley  Publishing, Ardmore, OK, 2001

Neil Nedley, M.D.,
Nedley Health Solutions
P. O. Box 1565
Ardmore, OK 73402

Toll-free: 1-888-778-4445
Phone: 1-580-226-8007
Fax: 1-580-223-2645