Tension or Stress?
By Stephen L Doherty
April 3rd, 2022
“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” –Peter Marshall
“Stress Kills!” That popular axiom has been a relatively new arrival in our cultural and societal pool of catchy tags and phrases. Its evolution coincided with so many other “modern” concerns and warnings about the many dangers of the choices we make and how we choose to live our lives in this ever-changing world. It’s also something we use to rationalize and mitigate our growing list of sensitivities in today’s overwrought civilization.
Personally, I follow that simple reality that 90% of the things we worry about (stress) never come to pass! A wise man once said that “If you can’t control it – why worry about it and if you can control it, don’t worry about it.”
I believe that much of the stress we experience is self-inflicted and that if we simply managed the things we can and ignore the things we can’t – overnight, we’d experience a massive drop in high blood pressure, heart disease, and the plethora of medications we consume to combat something that often seems psychosomatic. Stressing about stress is getting out of hand…
Stress is an addiction we have in falling victim to our cravings to control the uncontrollable. And if we allow these thoughts and cravings to dwell in our minds, they will succeed in robbing us of peace, joy, and ultimately our lives.
We will over-think ourselves into deep heartache and even depression. There’s no question that stress has a deleterious impact on our lives – the point is that the stress itself is too often a choice – not an affliction.
Tension, on the other hand is the mother’s milk of life. as any engineer will tell you, without tension, most mechanical devices won’t operate successfully. It is, in fact, the tension, that gives devices their power. One gear turns one way while another turns in the opposite direction. It’s this design that allows all the moving parts to work. Tension is the nucleus of all machinery, and it is also the catalyst for a happy and successful life.
We were built to withstand incredible challenges. Our “fight or flight” response system is hard wired into our respective psyches and tension provides the life-saving trigger. Muscles grow when stressed. Brains expand and evolve when challenged and utilized. Our hearts grow stronger (and healthier) when we tax them by pushing ourselves.
We grow sharp under grueling conditions – not ease and comfort. Aging and time have their own litany of debilitating realities, but too many of them are aided and abetted by easing up. By NOT seeking out and embracing healthy tension.
Case in point. After the age of thirty, we lose 5% of our muscle mass per decade. Lost muscle transfers stress and impact to our skeletal structures which are not designed or capable of picking up the slack – and, predictably, older people suffer all manner of skeletal maladies that are debilitating and self-limiting.
Solution. Tension – via the gym and the weight room. Muscle loss is not only not inevitable, but we can actually increase the amount of available muscle with relatively moderate weightlifting throughout our lives. Tension!
The opposite of tension is slack. Few arguments can be made for the latter over the former. Who could argue that inertia hasn’t killed far more people than action or activity? Don’t get me wrong. Balance is the key. Even Secretariat needed a break. Spiritual meditation and physical relaxation are the Yang to tension’s Yin.
“Use it or lose it” is Biblical in its truth and relevance. Wherever you find yourself in life – manage the stress but embrace the tension! Never in history has the following observation been so relevant and so under our control. “Aging is inevitable but getting old is optional!”
Staying sharp is all about embracing the tension of purpose and crafting challenges if none are present. We’re built – all of us – for the arena, not the sofa. Whatever time is left – is still enough time to become a warrior. In the end – it’s not a luxury – it’s a necessity!
“If people concentrated on the really important things in life,
there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.” –Doug Larson