Stress out

The first thing to do about stress is get rid of the word ‘stress’.
Because the moment you use that word you are going to develop the
illusion that an unfair, malign world is overloading you with problems that are driving you crazy. Thinking about your problem in this way will usually create passivity, hopelessness, procrastination and cynicism. It will also make you ill.

When Dr Hans Selye (the uninentional founder of the Stress Industry) first came up with the word ‘Stress’, he wasn’t referring to the cause but the illness. Stress, for Selye, meant the exhausted, aching, virus-ridden, sleepless, anxious, depressed state his patients had ended up in. He didn’t say they had been worn out by problems. Instead, he argued that they had failed to adapt to problems. And then they got worn out.

I was looking at a very good blog by Dr Ellen Weber on this very subject here. For Ellen linguistic intelligence (i.e. using words carefully) opens up options, choices and decisions. But linguistic dumbness leads straight to powerlessness.

For example, contrast this statement:

‘Things are so bad at work right now that I am heading for a breakdown’.

with this one:

I have way too much work to do and I’m going to need all the support I can get with that.

The first statement refers to ‘bad’ forces that cause nervous breakdowns. The second describes the challenge and the resources required to deal with it. Assuming linguistic dumbness isn’t holding things up the person will soon be talking to people who can help.

Here are some other statements you could try changing if you ever catch yourself using them. Notice that the first in each pair is passive, vague, overgeneralized, or unreal. While the second is active, specific and realistic.

‘My daughter is stressing me out so much I could kill her!’


‘My daughter is  staying out way too late. If she doesn’t start getting home on time I will take her key away.

‘My so-called ‘best friend’ is a real user. I can’t cope with it any more’


‘My best friend asks for way too much. I’d better learn to start saying ‘No’

‘My relationship is the pits. I feel like I want to go live in a nunnery.’


‘Things aren’t working out in this relationship. Time we both talked about what we really want from this.’

Linguistic intelligence leads to adaptation. For Hans Selye, adaptation is the key so finding the right words to describe what is going on will lead you to make choices that keep you out of stress. If you read this article too late and you are already stressed, then take Dr Ellen Weber’s advice and focus on the words that describe the way things might be instead of the way your Headmind imagines they are.

Next Up: My top ten best adaptive ways to avoid stress

One thought on “Stress out

  1. Ellen September 9, 2007 / 6:37 pm

    John, I am intrigued by your reversals and thrilled by new possibilities you create. What an honor to learn from you on such a key topic for today’s emplyees and leaders! Thanks – I highly recommend your site at for a deeper look at amazing opportunities out there for all of us! Go LEARN “EM John, we are listening!


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