Batman’s belt

Stress is all about the challenges we face. The greater the challenge, the greater the stress. The negative emotion we feel is usually labelled anxiety when it is acute. In more chronic situations, we feel a general sense of unease which often produces burnout or depression.

These negative feelings push us to address the problem and respond to the challenge (the stressor). The counterpart to stress is our ability to respond effectively to it. The greater the ability to respond, the less stress one feels. This means that the people who have few challenges, or those with many skills, feel little stress. But things are not quite that straightforward.

People who face many challenges but care little about them, will also feel little stress. Likewise, those who care too much (perfectionists, for example) will feel a lot of stress even if they actually have very little on their plates.

This aspect of caring too much is the source of today’s column – Batman’s Belt. The stress response will always push us to respond. If we are perfectionists, or if we lack confidence, we tend to want to control everything that might go wrong in order to avoid feeling bad. Unfortunately, when faced with uncertainty about the future (i.e., when we face changes) or when we have no control, we will feel extreme stress. This is why I wrote about two necessary tools.

The first is the confidence in knowing that your abilities, which have gotten you through past challenges, will probably get you through future ones. With this, you can face uncertainty, loss of control, or change. In other words, a sense akin to ‘Well, whatever it is, I’ll figure it out,’ will greatly reduce stress.

The second tool is hinted at by the word ‘probably’ in the above paragraph. Acceptance that we cannot control everything is the ultimate weapon against stress. This does not mean one should not care about the outcome of future events, but without the ability to accept the possibility of bad things happening, we will be paralyzed by stress and fear. Risk of traffic accidents is a good example. When we drive, we can reduce the chance of accidents by being careful and respecting the rules of the road. But if we want to be sure never to have an accident, we will never get into a car. Acceptance of certain risk is the only way to face life.

Batman’s belt (Voir plus bas pour la version Française)

(Source: La ceinture de Batman. Journal Métro, Sept 20, 2011)

Stress is not particularly complicated. It is our bodies’ basic alarm system. Whenever we face a threat, or any type of challenge, the stress response pushes us to do something that will reduce the anxiety felt. In their time, cavemen stressed over finding food, mating, keeping dry, and not being eaten by predators. Today our challenges include trying not to overeat, dating, keeping our armpits dry, and not being eaten by predators of the corporate kind.

If I lived in the wild and walked into a forest, a number of bad things could happen – wild animals could attack me, I could fall off a cliff, get lost, be bit by a snake, etc. Luckily, as a human being, I am evolved to a point of having enough brain matter to anticipate dangers and to have developed tools to use against them. I could bring a gun and a compass. If I were like Batman, who seems to have a tool in his belt for whatever challenge he faces, I would certainly feel less stress.

Stress – Counter-stress

Here is the simple formula: The more challenges we face, the more stress we will feel; and the better our ability to respond to, or master these challenges, the less stress we feel. What this means is that we will feel less stress when we can anticipate challenges and when we have the skills or abilities to control them. This is why any change is scary. Without knowing what lies ahead, we don’t know which tools to bring.

A special tool

While being prepared protects us against stress, some people try too hard to anticipate problems. They obsess over every possibility and try to have complete control over circumstances. Such people fall apart when they have no means of control or when they cannot predict future challenges. This is why we need a special tool in order to manage stress. The tool is called self-confidence. If we trust in our abilities to overcome challenges, we will fell less threatened by change or by the unknown. Specific details of what lies ahead become irrelevant to the confident person.

The ultimate tool

Of course, this isn’t absolute. Even the most competent and confident people know they cannot always overcome all challenges. This is when we need our ultimate tool against stress. It is called the tool of acceptance. Without it, the effort to control everything traps people in anger, worry and unhappiness. Like my wise, and remarkably unstressed, father always says, “What can you do? That’s life. Whatever comes, we’ll take.”

Thanks, Papa, good advice.

Voici la version Française:

La ceinture de Batman

Le stress n’est pas particulièrement compliqué. C’est le système d’alarme de notre organisme. Lorsque nous sommes confrontés à une menace ou à un défi, le stress nous pousse à agir pour réduire l’anxiété. Ce qui stressait les hommes des cavernes, c’était de trouver de la nourriture, copuler, se garder au sec, et éviter de se faire dévorer par des prédateurs. Aujourd’hui, nos défis sont : essayer de ne pas trop manger, garder nos aisselles au sec, et éviter de se faire avaler par des prédateurs qui prennent la forme d’entreprises.

Si je vivais dans la nature et que je devais m’aventurer dans la forêt, certains malheurs pourraient m’arriver : je pourrais être attaqué par des bêtes sauvages, tomber d’une falaise, être mordu par un serpent, etc. Heureusement, l’être humain a évolué au point d’avoir assez de matière grise pour prévoir les dangers et créer les outils permettant d’y faire face. Je pourrais emporter une arme à feu et une boussole. Si j’étais comme Batman, qui semble disposer d’un outil dans sa ceinture pour affronter tous les dangers, je serais certainement moins stressé.

Stress et antistress

Voici la formule simple : plus nous avons de défis à relever, plus nous nous sentons stressés. Plus notre aptitude à y réagir augmente, moins nous sommes stressés. Cela signifie que nous sommes moins stressés lorsque nous pouvons prévoir les défis et que nous disposons des capacités pour les relever. C’est pourquoi tout changement est angoissant. Lorsque nous ignorons ce qui s’en vient, nous ne savons pas quels outils emporter.

Un outil spécial

Si la préparation réduit le stress, certaines personnes essaient trop d’anticiper les problèmes. Obsédées par l’éventail de possibilités, elles tentent d’avoir le contrôle de toutes les situations. Elles s’effondrent lorsqu’elles n’ont aucun moyen de contrôle ou qu’elles ne peuvent prévoir les défis. Nous avons donc besoin d’un outil spécial pour gérer le stress : la confiance en soi. Si nous avons confiance en nos capacités à relever les défis, nous nous sentirons moins stressés par les changements ou par l’inconnu. La personne sûre d’elle n’a pas besoin de savoir ce qui s’en vient.

L’outil suprême

Bien sûr, il ne s’agit pas d’une vérité absolue. Même les gens les plus sûrs d’eux savent qu’ils ne peuvent pas relever tous les défis. C’est pourquoi nous avons besoin de notre outil suprême contre le stress : l’acceptation. Sans elle, les efforts pour tout contrôler confinent les gens dans la colère, l’inquiétude et la tristesse. Comme le disait mon père, sage et très relax : « C’est la vie. Quoi qu’elle nous apporte, il faut faire avec. »

Merci pour le bon conseil, Papa.

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Posted in Anxiety, Stress.

Posted on 20 Sep 2011

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4 comments to Batman’s belt

  1. Cheryl-Lynn Roberts
    On Sep 22nd 2011 at 23:39

    Good realistic advice! I think it has been said that 98% of what people worry about never happens. Would make sense to take your father’s advice and adopt this tool of “acceptance”.

  2. Jean-Marc
    On Sep 26th 2011 at 19:06

    Est ce que le lâcher prise pourrait faire partie des outils ultimes? Probablement que oui, mais pas facile à faire!

    Merci pour le Post.


  3. Lyne Deschênes
    On Sep 27th 2011 at 19:36

    j’adore!!!! merci Dr Z ! ;)

  4. Joane Leroux
    On Jun 4th 2012 at 18:45

    Merci infiniment pour ce texte .Parfois je sens les choses et je les dis à ma façon ,j,aime votre façon d’imager les faits vécus .Bonne et agréable journée !