I’m! So! Stressed!

Dear Michele,

Last night my dad said that I needed to be less tense and more relaxed (except he said it in a much cruder manner). This has terribly upset me because I never thought I was “too tense”. Basically I am pretty focused and always have been so I have never “partied” or done drugs or anything like that and I get good grades and always have. I have always been teased by other people about those things and told I should loosen up but I have never been told so by my own father and never really thought I needed to loosen up. I mean what if all these years I have just been shrugging off what people say when it’s true? I am so upset because I don’t want to have to go out and get drunk and have sex with random people just so I’m cool and relaxed. I guess my question is how do I deal with this? What am I supposed to do? I just feel like everybody sees me and thinks I’m no fun and a prude or something.


Dear Confused,

What other people say or think about you doesn’t matter; what matters is if you are happy the way you are. If you are, then when your dad or anyone else says something about you being too tense, just laugh it off.

But if you can’t, it might be because they’ve struck a nerve and that’s good to know too. Maybe you are too tense, and not entirely happy with things in your life. If that’s the case, this could be an awesome time to reevaluate.

Ask yourself this:
When was the last time you laughed or smiled?
If the answer isn’t today, you’re probably too tense.

I asked my friend Dave, who is, really and truly, an expert on stress (yes! That’s a job!) about this and here’s what he said:

“If a person’s stress system is working normally, she should feel relaxed most of the time with occasional, short-lived bouts of feeling tense. Many people are so used to being stressed that they think short periodic moments of being relaxed is the norm.

One image I like is that of being chased by a large predator (take your pick). This is what the stress response is actually designed for. In this scenario, your body cranks up some systems vital for escape (heart and breathing rates, blood pressure, analgesic capacity) and shuts down others that are unnecessary (digestion and reproductive being most notably unimportant when running from a large predator). Long term memory and
learning are also giving much lower priority. Peripheral vision (literally – but also a great metaphor) becomes much narrower as we focus only on what is right in front of us -we are looking for a place to hide or a stick to use as a weapon. People who are stressed have been shown to have a harder time being “team players” because of this narrowed focus and they are much more likely to suffer accidental injury – perhaps due to
this lack of peripheral vision.”

In other words, when you’re stressed out you’re like a pack horse with blinders on: you feel weighed down and can only see what is right in front of you which means both that you’re not able to make the best decisions, and also that you’re missing out on a lot.

But Dave also points out that stress isn’t all bad. He says: “A metaphor I like for why it is important to pay attention to the signs of stress and to learn from them is a smoke alarm. If the alarm goes off (stress), we can shut it off (avoidance) or we can look to see if there is a fire (awareness) and put it out (behavior or perspective change).”

There are things we have to do, responsibilities to others and school work and jobs and etc and blah and so on. But you have total control over how you react to those. If you can see them as exciting challenges, then they may be stressful, but not tense making.

So next time someone says something as absurd as “What you need is to get laid” you can either become furious. Or you can burst into laughter and assume he’s kidding. Because that is a totally ridiculous statement if you think about it.
Not to mention a very bad use of sex.


Dr. J

Need Advice? Mail your questions for publication to advice@michelejaffe.com. The doctor can't promise to answer them all, but she'll do her best. (By sending a question you grant permission to have it appear here. Letters may be edited. Advice is for entertainment purposes only. No blaming us later okay? Okay.)

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply