Stress Matching

Stress is often a barometer for problems, but rarely helpful in solving them.

Imagine that someone has a near-priceless collection of antique books that they keep in their home. One day, a water main breaks and their basement begins to flood, putting the entire collection at existential risk. They frantically begin grabbing as many volumes as they can and running outside with them, all the while witnessing the imminent destruction of their life’s work and passion, not to mention the bulk of their net worth (and the immense damage to their house, no less)!

They would be very stressed!

Now, let’s say you just happened to be walking by when this happened. You see a person in a frantic situation and, being a good human, you leap in to help. You might have a sudden surge of adrenaline, but you wouldn’t be 1% as stressed as they are. None of these things are emotionally vital to you, nor do they represent physical assets of yours. Ultimately, the fate of these books doesn’t matter to you outside of your desire to not have bad things happen to fellow humans.

You would, in other words, be much better suited to solving the problem.

You would be more clear-headed. You would be more likely to see solutions – maybe there’s an emergency shutoff for the water main just nearby, but in their desperation over their books the other person didn’t even think to look. Maybe there’s a way to transport the books more efficiently than just grabbing armloads at a time, such as a nearby box of relatively unimportant junk that can be easily commandeered for the purpose. The point is that the lower-stress person is more likely to see these things.

But stress is infectious. And many people view “being stressed” as “being serious,” and try to make you more stressed if they don’t think you have sufficient amounts.

For instance, you might spend no more than 30 seconds glancing around before you found that emergency shutoff, but it would only take 10 seconds before the other person was screaming “Stop standing around like an idiot and help me!”

And you might think, “that’s a really bad way to speak to someone who’s only trying to help,” and of course it is. But they’re too stressed to realize that, and it’s actually surprisingly easy for you to get swept up in it. Before you know it, you’re stressed and ineffective too – and it wasn’t even your problem to begin with.

This is hard to do, but amazing if you can: remember that when you’re super stressed about some major dilemma, someone who isn’t stressed but is trying to help you is just about the biggest blessing you can receive. Compared to you, that person has superpowers. But be careful – in the same way that knowledge given to others doesn’t lessen your own store, the same is true of stress. Rarely does making someone else feel more stressed make you feel less. So do everything you can to keep yours from infecting the people trying to solve your problem with you.

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