Stress: It’s Like Pain

Stress it's Like PainI find mental health to be very similar to physical health, and in fact two parts to the same big picture of you and how you are living your life. From a physical standpoint, when we’re out being busy and active, we expose ourselves to many hazards. To name a simple few, we may wear ill-fitting shoes, stub our toes, get stepped on by other people, or inadvertently step on them. All these can cause real pain and sometimes significant injury.

From an emotional standpoint, life has a different set of hazards, which we in mental health call stressors. Whether it is suddenly being left by boyfriend, passed over for a well-deserved promotion, or facing serious new responsibilities, these stressors and events like them cause us to feel stress or stressed, distressed, or stressed-out. I see this kind of stress as the emotional equivalent of physical pain, and it deserves the same kind of compassion. In fact, emotional stress and pain can both be defined as a state of strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.

Like pain, stress is a signal that something is wrong, and it comes in many forms, from worry and fear to sadness, guilt, and more. Sometimes, we know right away that we’re feeling stress and what caused it, and sometimes we don’t. When in doubt, I encourage everyone I work with to ask, “What am I feeling? Where is it coming from? And what can I do to feel better?” You would do it for physical pain. Why not do it for emotional pain? You’ll live happier, and healthier!

–Dr. Adam