Commentary: These three little words just might save your life

By Joseph Zingaro

Stress happens, all the time.  In fact, the only time our bodies don’t experience stress is when we are dead.

 Not all stress is bad. Our perception of the stress and how we define it has a lot to do with our experience of it as good or bad.

Stress might be understood as anything that changes the balance we have in our bodies, our lives. As an example, when you are thirsty your body is experiencing stress. When you are planning that surprise party, your body is experiencing stress.

When the stress we are experiencing is larger than the stress we can handle, we get tired. We feel less energetic, less motivated.  We are running on empty and may not know why. After all it should be fun to plan your wedding, right?

More often than not, we can learn to bring our daily stress down significantly, so that by the beginning of each day we start at ground zero, or close to it. We usually have an entire day of new, stressful events before we feel saturated.

When we feel saturated, we need to rest. We may experience this need to rest as feeling less energetic, less motivated, less goal-oriented, more irritable.

The coronavirus and its consequences, like social distancing and new regulations about which businesses can remain open or must close, are a constant stress, and as long as we are needing to address COVID-19 and its consequences, our bodies will not be able to get to ground zero in terms of stress. This means that every day, it becomes easier to feel saturated, tired, irritable, and sadder than it did before the pandemic.

You may have thought of things you were going to get done: learn how to play a musical instrument, read that book you were wanting to, get the house really clean, but maybe none of that has happened.  Instead you find yourself in front of the TV watching reruns of shows you already saw ten years ago. It’s like you’re in the movie Groundhog Day and every day is a repeat of the day before.

What is happening to us?

This is a sign of your body’s wisdom. When our lives have become too stressful or chaotic or unpredictable, the mind looks for things that are predictable – for balance. What’s more predictable than seeing the second season of Everybody Loves Raymond for the third 

time?! When it’s difficult to get our stress down to ground zero by the beginning of each day, we are more likely to feel irritable, tired, and blah (stressed!) even when it seems like there is not much going on around us. We may feel less resilient or creative or tolerant than we otherwise would feel.

A solution to dealing with chronic stress could be what experts on stress tell us. They might suggest that we think about the three most important words in the world. These three words hold the secret to the solution of many of our issues. And the three words are not “I love you.”

The three words are: Consider the source. 

I hope you have a good relationship with your health care provider. But I also hope that when you have trouble with your car, you ask a mechanic about the problem and not your dermatologist. Asking your health care provider for car advice may be a waste of valuable time, and the advice or prescription they offer may not solve your car’s problem. You might not understand what your mechanic is telling you about how she will fix your car, but if you consider the source, and follow their advice, you are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome. It may cost you more than you would have liked, but some solutions are simply more expensive than others.

Likewise, if you are experiencing a fever of unknown origin, talking to the person who rotates your tires may not be helpful, safe or smart.

Who you trust as a “source” is extremely important, especially during a time of need or crisis. None of us have ever experienced a pandemic before. What source should we consider?  Should we give more weight to  individuals who have studied the source of the stress – i.e., a virus – and proven ways to deal with it, and have an opinion based on their studies?

Or should we just trust anyone with an opinion as if the source of their opinion doesn’t matter?

Joseph C. Zingaro, Ph.D., of Milford, has been practicing as a psychologist in Delaware since 1987.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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