In the psychological literature you will hear about “good stress” (called eustress) and “bad stress” (called distress). But it isn’t the stress that is good or bad, it is the stressor. The stressor or demand may be so-to-speak positive, like a gallery wanting a show from us, but the stress produced is nevertheless wearing on our system. We may want a certain stressor but the accompanying stress is always a problem. The cause may be a blessing but the effect is a challenge.
Some demands are more “objectively demanding” and some demands are more “subjectively demanding.” If I am hanging by my fingernails to a window ledge I am in a physically demanding situation that would tax anyone. But what if I have ten months left before my gallery show? Do I need to construe that as a demand, a pressure, and a stressor or can I “normalize” the situation and “talk myself down” from the stress I’m experiencing?—say by telling myself that ten months is a completely adequate amount of time to produce enough paintings?
Many demands can be normalized or even reframed as opportunities and when that happens the associated stress vanishes. If you are holding it as lovely to make three calls today to gallery owners instead of as something dreadful that you wish you could avoid at all costs, you have changed the demand characteristic of the situation to one of opportunity. Only you can do this work of “changing your mind” about certain aspects of your life and switching them from demands to opportunities.
Let me repeat this point: you are stressed when something feels demanding and if it can be made to feel enjoyable instead, it will not produce stress.
Even if we can’t reframe the situation, we can nevertheless take action. We can reduce stress by employing stress reduction techniques. If something in our life puts pressure on us and that pressure can’t be reduced by “thinking it away,” then our next step is to employ stress reduction techniques. Even if a demand remains demanding, you can still reduce your stress level by engaging in smart stress reduction activities like progressive relaxation techniques and deep breathing techniques.
By the same token, many demands must simply be met if we are to reduce our experience of stress. If we have paintings due in two months, we need to get them done in two months for that stressor to go away. If we don’t get them done, the stress remains –with all sorts of new stress piled on top of it. Actually meeting demands reduces stress. If you are demanding of yourself that you contact fifty galleries and if you are putting yourself under that sort of stress, and if you find that demand completely reasonable, then the only way to reduce the stress you are experiencing is to begin to systematically approaching those fifty galleries – even if approaching them makes you anxious!