09/20/2012 11:56 am ET Updated Nov 20, 2012

Stress Doesn't Have to Be That Stressful

Did you know that stress is not inherently stressful?

Sounds impossible, right? Well, it turns out that if stress were inherently stressful, we would all be stressed by the same things. And we're not.

Some people are stressed by traffic. Some aren't.

Some people are stressed by their families. Some aren't.

Some people are stressed by snakes. Some aren't - - but those people are usually stressed by spiders. Just saying.

Some life experiences do cause stress for most people. Illness, death, loss. I think we can agree that those are inherently stressful. But much of our day-to-day stress is not.

Years ago, I began using a formula to explain the effects of stress. Math was one of my best subjects in college, and my undergraduate advisor suggested I take more math classes. But I couldn't justify it because I just didn't see a future in numbers. It reminds me of a T-shirt I once saw that read, "I'm an English major. You do the math."

That being said, there is a simple formula that explains the effects of stress. It goes like this:

Stressor + Interpretation = Effects of Stress

The stressor is an event or an experience in our lives. Our interpretation is how we view the event or the meaning we give to it. And the effect is the resulting impact of that interpretation.

If someone says something to you and you interpret it as intentionally rude or mean spirited, you will have a different reaction than if you interpret it as simply poor communication.

The challenge is that we don't often stop to analyze or even recognize our interpretations. Instead, we just react. I call that a "kneeflex." A knee-jerk reaction that is so automatic, it's like a reflex and we don't know we're doing it.

Ultimately, we have the freedom to choose how we see everything. And if we pay attention to our interpretations and then change our perspective to something more positive, it might just be the difference between stress and stress-less-ness.

For more by Ron Culberson, MSW, CSP, click here.

For more on stress, click here.