The human mind was made to compute answers for the human being, and most of the time it does a pretty good job for most people. When faced with gaping holes in data to think with, though, it goes into overdrive, like a car with its wheels spinning, and starts to ‘overcompute’.
That’s stress: the mind throwing in a whole range of wild possibilities in order to try to solve a question for which it has no available reasonable answer.
Lacking the results of a medical test? Your mind will throw every feasible result at you, and, in the absence of any actual data, several unfeasible ones as well.
Unhappy because you don’t know whether to trust a partner? Here come a million possible outcomes that will shake your stability and trust even further.
Anxious about your performance in working environment? Let your mind present you with a range of scenarios to electrify you.
When your mind doesn’t have information to work with, it will start to make up stuff — and the wilder end of that stuff comes with all the associated adrenal and endocrine reactions that match it: tense muscles, stomach acid, nervous twitches, sleeplessness, nausea, you name it, the body is going to make sure it’s ready for whatever the mind is predicting will be needed to deal with the worst things that could happen.
Absence of data is the root cause. If you knew the medical results, even if they were grim, you could plan and predict; if you had certainty about your partner’s activities, you could either relax or make alternative arrangements; if you had knowledge about what your employer really thought about your performance, you could respond accordingly. But not knowing — that’s the killer. Then everything starts working overtime in an effort to prepare you for doomsday.
What can you do about this?
One thing would be to perceive that the above is what is occurring and then make one central decision: decide that you are not going to entirely trust the flow of suggestions coming from your mind when it comes to the topic about which you are stressed. It’s not that your thinking is intentionally trying to betray you — it’s just attempting to do its best with what it’s got. In the absence of accurate, rational information, it’s tossing you options, many of them grim.
Your mind is your friend.
That racing heart or nauseous stomach which arises as a result of the various scenarios your mind is painting is the product of its genuine attempts to help you survive. You can’t trust the individual scenarios, because they are based on incomplete data — but you can always trust your mind’s intentions. So take a deep breath and give your mind a pat on its invisible back — it’s doing its job.
What it needs is data.
So your next step is to go out of your way to try to provide it with data. Get those medical results; find out the truth about your partner; get in touch with your employer about your work. This might take time, energy and courage — you might have to confront doctors, emotional people, or bosses. You might feel imperilled and, for a while, stress levels might go up — but if you emerge with concrete data, your mind will no longer have to work extra hard to accomplish what it’s trying to do, which is provide you with an optimum life.
Now comes the good bit. If you can do this — if you can go that extra mile and fill in the blanks that have been tormenting you, or at least some of them — you will have created a ‘Slingshot Effect’: the stress will recede, having catapulted you onward.
You might have to do this a number of times to address different sectors or levels of stress in your life, but each time you do, you’ll get stronger, more rational, brighter.
It doesn’t even matter (ultimately) if the medical results were bad, or the partner proved untrustworthy, or the employer turned out to have a lower opinion of you than you wanted — at least you know the truth, or part of it. Being able to fill in the blanks, even only to a degree, means that your mental computer can stop overheating and settle into something resembling a cruising speed.
Of course, new stressful scenarios may come up: you might have to undergo surgery, get a new partner, find a new job. But you will have emerged from under a thundercloud of stress and feel more capable of doing these things.
It’s the not knowing that kills us.
You’re entering positive territory now; stress is receding. Good things are on the horizon.