Embrace your stress.
That’s the message Stanley Abbott has for students and teachers who are feeling overwhelmed and behind just a month or so into the school year.
The retired Purdue University professor celebrates the upside of anxiety in his new book, “Enjoy Stress,” a 78-page tutorial on how to counter the forces that make people feel like they’re losing control.
To start off, Abbott says, remember that stress can be good and that everyone has it.
“People need to know that the clinical definition of no stress is death,” Abbott jokes during a telephone interview from his home in Albuquerque. “We are all automatically going to face stress, but are you able to cope?”
Although telling people to enjoy their stress may seem to be counterintuitive advice, Abbott thinks that when you set the terms of your relationship with stress, you can control it rather than having it control you.
“The basic thing is to find simplicity,” he says. “There’s a lot of advice out there for dealing with stress. I wanted to teach my students how to handle stress, and I thought, ‘This needs to be simplified.’ ”
Abbott, who was a professor of performing arts, wanted to set out some straightforward ways to prepare people for handling stress before it became a problem. His approach includes chapters that address goal setting, relaxation, exercise, attitude, diet and how to interact with other people.
“If you’re well prepared, practice relaxation, have a good diet, have a good attitude, you should be fine,” he says. “Remember some people have stress because they choose to have stress. They bring it on themselves.”
An overlooked antidote to stress, Abbott argues, is fun and a sense of humor.
“The effects of humor and laughter on our physical and mental well-being are proven and extremely beneficial,” he writes. “A good laugh decreases levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenal, causes endorphin levels to rise, and strengthens our immune system.”
Laughing and humor, he writes, “helps you take things more lightheartedly and joyfully, breaking out of the stress-producing thoughts, increasing your sense of satisfaction, and going about your life more meaningfully.”
As a professor, Abbott noticed that the one thing that created the most stress for his students was a lack of time management and the anxiety brought on by letting things go until the last minute.
“Deadline stress was very prevalent,” he says. “I was able to explain to them that if you can arrange your time and properly prepare and manage your work, you’re going to be fine. They grabbed on to that and it worked like a champ.”
Another issue that causes problems for teachers and students is an unwillingness to open their minds to different possibilities or outcomes, Abbott said.
“The big thing is to get them to change habits and patterns,” he said. “Many came in with fixed ideas and they wouldn’t change their minds. Not being open to change can be a big cause of stress.”
The brief book compiles ideas from centuries of research and philosophy and repackages them in an easy-to-access manner. Abbott is also fond of quotes that he feels help simplify a complex issue, such as:
“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”
“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”
Bernice Johnson Reagon
Abbott, who became interested in helping people deal with stress after doctors told him that it had contributed to a massive heart attack his father suffered, says that for him, at least, all of his studying and research has paid off.
“These days I don’t have much stress at all,” he says.