The human being hates disruption. From the very first cry of an infant leaving the comfort of the womb, we have reacted to disruption as an undesired and painful condition. Stress is the result of disruption – from what is familiar and comfortable to what is unfamiliar and disturbing.
In our collective experience, however, disruption is interpreted as stress. Why? Because stress is universally recognized as a load or force or system of forces producing a strain. So, what we feel is the strain. Can you see, therefore, that an event by itself is not a stress unless it produces a strain? Consider that the same system of forces that will devastate an investor, for example, will allow another to salivate in positive expectation. Or one person getting fired may jump for joy because it releases him to follow a more desirable path while another feels the pain of the disruption more severely.
Can you not also see that the discomfort comes from disruption, but only as long as the old state was comfortable or the new one disturbing? What makes one disruption produce strain while another does not? To understand this, one must first look at the forces that appear as stress. Think of disruptions that are common – those that occur in a family, a relationship, a job, the weather, health, or finances. What are the forces that evoke these disruptions? We do not see them. They are not as easy or predictable as, for instance, the force of a physical weight we must carry. Instead, we see only two things – the removal of the old and the introduction of the new. The old is comfortable, or at least, familiar. The new is unknown, perhaps easy, perhaps formidable, but it remains unknown until it appears. And between them is the uncertainty.
Uncertainty is foreboding because it promises nothing or the fear that we will be unable to manage. The fear exists because we think of the possible stresses that have not yet occurred. Since they are undetermined, they will have endless possibilities. Endless possibilities unleash endless forces. Endless forces cannot be managed easily, and the expectation of that produces strain.
Yet, the human being is better equipped. We do not always focus on the uncertainty. After the initial strain, if we cannot keep the original state, do we not usually adapt to the new state? Consider riding a bicycle. We do not meditate on the possibility of tripping on a pebble down the street and falling, hitting our head on the sidewalk and suffering brain trauma, do we? And that sequence is a definite probability, though rare. No, we focus on the immediate challenge. We take certain precautions, hop on the bike and ride. We are prepared for the predictable and deal with the unpredictable if and when it happens. If we trip on a pebble somewhere down the street, we would then create a response to manage the new condition and regain balance.
That is our innate response to stress. But we do not always use it. Why? This is because, to be able to create a new, appropriate response, we have to believe in our ability to do it. We have to believe in us! To believe in us, we have to know what we are bringing to the table, the table of life, that is.
On the one hand are the forces of nature and the reactions they unleash. On the other hand is our ability to manage the stress. A force can be simple, like having to lift a heavy load. Or it can be complex, like the effects of a storm. It can be even more complex when these effects unleash responses from other sources. To understand this, consider the market. If the demand for a commodity creates a blip, that is one level of stress. If that blip affects the value of another commodity, the stress rises in complexity. If those blips stir an uncertainty that leads to a run-off, the complexity rises. If the run-off evokes a general panic, the stress becomes so complex that disruption is unleashed in a tremendous range of areas. Do you notice what is necessary? A balance. And a balance is not attained only by the removal of the excess. In a simple model, it is also attained by the expansion of the lesser quantity. In a complex model, balance can be attained by stopping the volatility. But it can also be attained by moving with the volatility. For instance, we live on a planet that revolves around the sun at an astounding speed of about 70,000 miles per hour. That speed alone can upset our balance, but we keep the balance, not by stopping the earth, but by moving with it. Yes, we too move at a rate of 70,000 miles per hour around the sun.
What we are managing, therefore, is not the disruptive forces. We have seen that they take on a life of their own. What we manage is how we deal with the disruption. Do we allow it to create strain? Or do we accept that we can live with the new state the disruption brings and manage ourselves comfortably in it? Do you hear what this says? We manage ourselves comfortably in it. OURSELVES!
This is the process of experience, isn’t it? It is like learning to canoe. At first it is a formidable task, uncomfortable, frightening, even foreboding, especially if the water is rough. But we learn how to position ourselves in it to be able to keep our balance. We learn that the canoe is inherently unstable and light and that the water is unpredictably changing. We learn to kneel deeply in the canoe to stabilize the craft, adapt ourselves to the variations and manoeuvre ourselves through them. And the more we manage ourselves, the more comfortable we become with the challenge. Then the challenge, once formidable, evokes pleasure. We then can look for greater variations in the forces acting on it. We welcome disruption because we believe in us! An accomplished canoeist can say to the weather, “give me all you can give. I can handle it.” If we never believed in us, in our ability to adapt ourselves to new events and new twists in old states, we would always cower and stay vulnerable, and afraid of disruptions.
Then disruptions bring stress. And, instead of the more sane approach of empowering ourselves to confront the stress rationally, we direct all our efforts ineffectively at trying to erase the stress, even as it keeps coming. We try to fight it off or attack the things or people who appear to be the most obvious proponent of the last force with anger, irritability, domestic squabbles, perfectionism; we try to suppress the experience with drugs or alcohol; we try to escape it by diverting ourselves with more pleasurable and less imposing experiences like shopping, gambling, partying, leisure, or sexual promiscuity; or we succumb to it with depression, anxiety, or phobias.
To really manage stress, therefore, we need two things. First, we need to accept disruption as a natural event in life. It is as natural as the new day replaces the night or as the night replaces the evening. We need to understand it by knowing how to accept, appreciate, and understand change. Second, we need to believe in us, not just physically or in our ability to boost ourselves with material accoutrements that extend our reach, but mentally, in the greatest asset of the human being, our ability to think, create solutions, and do it on the fly. True, that quality must be stimulated and expanded for it to be a real asset. None of us is born with any knowledge. But we are born with the ability to create it. That requires effort. But then, what else is the purpose of life? All we ever accomplish by the end of life is whatever insights or capabilities we have developed during life. Not even the filthy rich are proud of what they may have inherited. They are proud of how they were able to use it or build it.
We must be proud of us! And we have a lifetime to do it. It is never too late to turn on the afterburners and be the best we can be. It is never too late to embrace the experiences that are unknown and unfamiliar so that we can make them known and familiar. It is never too late to use life to build the greatest power we can have, the power of our own insight, courage, and determination. Then, we will discover that the more we do it, the more we will believe in ourselves. Then, the more we will say to life, “Send me your disruptions. I can use them as food for my personal growth!”
On the other hand, all those accoutrements that once gave us a short-cut to showing immediate strength and having the assurance that really does not belong to us – physical power or beauty, material or financial assets, connections – are totally vulnerable to the forces that bring disruption. A tiny virus can damage health; a small shift in the market can eliminate wealth; a misinterpretation of intent can destroy a relationship. And if we have learned to rely on these to give us assurance, disruption in life will always change the power of the assets we rely on, leaving us as vulnerable as they are to the forces that are both inevitable and numerous. Of course, we may not even rely on them but allow ourselves to be measured by how well we respect them. This is an abstract way of saying that we have to pay bills even if we do not embrace money as a personal asset or measure ourselves by how stable we may appear to our creditors. What creates the stress here is the unstated judgment or fear of it. To the person who knows how to believe in self, such judgment, though negative, is no longer devastating. He/she can proceed on self judgment even if others judge negatively.
To manage stress, therefore, one must learn to build a sustained, profound belief in one’s creative strengths, that is, the power of mind or soul, develop an ability to be self-assured in the face of criticism or adversity, and cultivate the acknowledgment that disruption only brings new food for the nourishment and inspiration of self. Believe in yourself. Take disruptions as the invitation to be creative. Yearn to stimulate your creativity, not to stifle it by seeking stability and calm. This is the process of life. This is the power of understanding, the wisdom of understanding change.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Albert de Goias is a physician licensed to practice in the province of Ontario, Canada. I became interested in the plight of the distressed person while in family practice on Ontario in 1978. At that time, I was in the unique position of receiving patients from a large contingency of people displaced because of the Quebec referendum. I saw medical conditions that appeared suddenly, intensely, and without anatomical precedent. Research led me to recognize the impact of stress on the body's physiology and I published findings, first at symposia at university, and then in medical publications.
Because I was looking, I saw the conditions that arose in patients who went through a variety of transitions. I was asked by several international businesses to assist their senior executives through the change process that came unexpectedly in the early eighties. By the end of the eighties, I saw people who were going through a different sort of transition, that from war-torn countries - Africa, Middle East, and Eastern Europe as the Iron Curtain began to fall. These people arrived in droves in Toronto and came to my practice from several sources. In the early nineties, I was involved in a different transition, that of addicts returning from treatment centers in the USA but who were gun-shy of the responsibilities they suddenly had to face as recovered addicts. By 1992, this tide was stemmed by legislation in Canada curtailing the financial responsibility for out-of-province treatment.
These great ranges of transition allowed me to see a great variety of patients who were overwhelmed by change and were either suffering emotional pain, going through addictions as a form of self-treatment, or being charged with a variety of criminal counts that resulted from their poor management of themselves and their relationships under these stresses. My involvement with these allowed me to become progressively accepted as an expert witness in several courts in Southern Ontario for domestic violence, drug and alcohol use and rehabilitation, and sexual deviance.
My research led to the publication of a book, Understanding Change, that gave people direction to strengthen themselves, have hope, and manage more purposefully through a change process. Subsequently, I put the contents of the book in a video series and made it available on the web at