What is Stress?


Stress is that uneasy feeling we have when we are in a troublesome situation. That situation might be a big situation, like losing our job or suddenly getting diagnosed with a serious illness. It might also be a smaller, everyday type situation, like running late for an appointment, losing our keys, or getting into an argument with a co-worker. Whether the situation is big or small, when we react with all sorts of negative thoughts, we end up saying and doing things that make matters worse. Maybe we’re the type that gets angry when we don’t like something so we lash out at people. Maybe we worry ourselves sick and feel totally paralyzed, so we do nothing and trap ourselves in problems. Maybe we get depressed so we feel helpless and blame ourselves for the mess we’re in. The particular type of stress that we feel actually comes from the individual way we react to the problems we face. If our negative reactions go unresolved, our stress increases.


Let’s learn more about the cause of stress – our habitual negative reactions and thoughts. these reactions come up quickly, like a knee jerk reflex. We don’t actually take the time to think before we react; it happens automatically, like being on auto-pilot. For example, when a certain person we can’t stand simply looks at us, we instantly react with anger. Then, we blame that person for pushing our button. The very fact that we have the button means that we already have a trigger for anger with this particular person. The trigger is sitting there, ready to fire anytime that person does the slightest thing we don’t like.

Each of us has our own set of these reflex type reactions. We react in a certain way so often that the reactions become hardened over time. We have our own favorite way to handle situations, and we react very quickly based simply on how we feel. We don’t stop to think first, and when we just do what we feel like, our actions are often not appropriate for the situation. They don’t even come close to solving the problem.


The triggers for our reactions are already planted in us, so they easily cloud our thinking and create biases in our judgment. For example, if our reaction is to always get angry at a certain person, our dislike of this person is already planted in us. We have a well formed trigger for getting angry at this person that is easily set off. Then, no matter what the person does, even if the person means well, we immediately jump to conclusions and assume the worst. For example, that person asks us a simple question and we see it as a personal attack. A comment that is honestly meant to be helpful is interpreted as harsh criticism. Every conversation becomes a challenge. Our biases prevent us from seeing the true picture so we say and do things based on wrong or incomplete information. When we don’t know something about a situation, we just fill in our own preconceived ideas. We are blinded by our own reactions so our partial view of the situation is completely off the mark.

Stress is often seen as external circumstances that disturb us and make us miserable. When we use the Ding Sum approach, we recognize that stress is actually the result of our own reactions. It is how we view a situation and how we choose to react that gives us stress. We cannot control our external circumstances; however, we can use Ding Sum to control ourselves and the choices we make, so we calmly respond to situations in an appropriate, helpful way.