On stress

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May 12, 2020, 10:04 p.m. | Tagged under Psychology, Philosophy, whatever

In physics, stress is when a force is exerted on an object in two incompatible directions at once, causing the material to transform or break. I have been wondering for a while now how much that is a good metaphor model for psychological stress as well?

It depends of course how I define this stress, and for that I solely have my own conscious experience to do the sampling from. But, I am often stressed when I really want things to go in some way, and they end up going the other. Also, when there is a sudden unpredicted event, and I don't know how to react to it, I feel stressed. Or, if I, despite being an internationally known expert in overanalysis, just can not make any wise prediction about the future, and what would be in my best interest, my monkey brain takes over as well.

I think what all these examples have in common, is that I have some kind of mental model of how things should be. Things should go in the direction of health and wealth for everybody I care about. I should have an appropriate response to whatever ridiculous social situations people put me in. I should be able to solve any problem if I only think about it long enough.

In writing this previous paragraph, I noticed how much I have been using the word "should". Things should behave according to my mental models. The map should fit the territory.

And maybe that's where the physics metaphor comes in? I might continuously try to push things into other directions as in which they naturally go. Or, more specifically, in the way I assume in which they might go. I have no way of knowing. So in the end it feels like some resistance, some lack of acceptance, that things might turn out as I fear they can.

It brings comfort in thinking I'm not alone, and everybody has a list of things he/she has a hard time accepting, and the root causes for that are probably the cravings for health, love, appreciation etc. Which is actually quite a positive thing.

But, why these cravings, why some more than other? Maybe because of previous life experiences, we have grown some kind of "learned resistance" to certain events we have categorized as potentially catastrophic? If our consciousness was a physical object, flowing in a certain way, it would be a natural, futile, tendency to pull the other direction?

We can of course look at it from an evolutionary perspective. In more primitive times, stress meant not being eaten by a hungry predator. Now, our existenstial threats are reduced to a minimum, even in corona times, but that's a whole other topic..

Would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below.
(I want to make this blog more of a two-way street and get some conversations going)

(As for solutions, there's some promising research about psychedelic assisted psychotherapy in revealing past traumas, giving insight into your reaction to them, and learning to see them in a compassionate way. But because of the controversy about this subject, I should probably delete this line)