Saturday, May 11, 2013


I've been thinking a lot about stress lately. I think it was prompted by my reading of a February 12, 2013 article in a WSJ article by Shirley S. Wang titled "Stress Benefit Tied to Upbeat Mindset." The basic premise is that how we view stress can have an impact on whether stress impacts us negatively or positively.

I generally have a positive mindset. I'm generally optimistic. But, in regards to how I handle stress, I've discovered that the kind of stress impacts how I handle it. I can categorize my stress into three types that I'll call Types 1,2 and 3.

Type 1 is the the stress of being very busy with time commitments. In other words, almost all of the slots of my day are filled and the prospect of adding one more activity is like the last drop that causes the glass to over-flow. This kind of stress, I actually don't  mind. As a matter of fact, I kind of thrive with this kind of stress and it becomes almost a game to see if I can keep things running smoothly. I would say this is the kind of stress I had before I moved to Turkey: wife, mother, friend, full-time teacher, private piano teacher, church musician, team tennis player, book group member, etc. I generally loved everything except when the extra dropped (unexpected events) made the stress too great.

The second kind (Type 2) is the stress of the unknown. I can handle this type of stress up to a point, and then I find myself avoiding more stress by becoming an "ostrich in the sand" and ignoring what I can't handle.  I've had a lot stress of the unknown for the past two years. The good parts of this stress are learning experiences: the exposure to many new cultures and different view points, the meeting of new, interesting people, and the travel to places I'd never even heard of. The bad parts are my choosing NOT to handle the most routine of problems (phone plan changes, automatic banking challenges, shopping in general) or choosing to stay home and order take-out because I don't want to be bothered with the language barriers and the cultural stress. Today's experience at Carrefour, for example, almost made me cry when the shoplifting alarm sounded while I was exiting the store. The security guard marched over all official-like and I held up both my backpack and my shopping bag like I was being arrested. Of course, he checked my backpack first assuming I was a shop-lifter, but (and I could have told him this in English but not Turkish) it ended up being the toothbrushes in shopping bag because the checker hadn't scanned them properly. I didn't enjoy the public humiliation or the inability to comment.

The third kind of stress (Type 3) is the stress of not feeling useful, effective, or appreciated and the lack of mental challenge. I know this sounds a little ridiculous and kind of like spoiled child who needs to be complimented for doing a good job. But it's not really about the compliments or praise. It's more about the lack of challenge on the job and the pressure to make things so easy that every student gets a good grade. And, it's the frustration of knowing the students are intelligent but they know that English doesn't matter and they don't do the homework, and they cheat on the easy exams anyway. (For more information of cheating see the May 9, 2013 WSJ video and article about the May 4th SATs being cancelled because of cheating.)This is the first time in my life where I've actually felt that nothing I do has an impact one way or the other on anything. I'm just a body to fill a space kind of like you would put a trophy on a shelf.

Back to the idea of mindset having an impact on stress, to restate, I can be upbeat with Type 1 stress. Basically, I still have a modicum of control e.g. I can ramp up my schedule and/or start saying "no" when the days start getting too hectic. I can also have a positive attitude with Type 2 stress up to a point. Type 2 stress makes me grow and learn the most. And, when the challenges become too great, rather than lose my optimism, I choose to ignore new things. In fact, I still have bit of control and a positive mindset with Type 2 stress. The real problem for me is Type 3 stress. With this stress, I find it the most difficult to keep a positive. Actually, Type 3 actually makes me less willing to tackle Type 2 stressful experiences. Type 3 is the reason I ride my bike and/or get some kind of exercise everyday. I need to endorphins to counter the negative mind set.

Interestingly enough, just writing this blog has given me the change to "dream" that maybe something I say or do could have an impact. It's been a Type 2 answer to a Type 3 stress. Consequently, I'm back to a more upbeat/positive mindset.

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