The Elastic Band, A Metaphor For Stress

Dr. Hans Selye who coined the word ‘stress’ in the early 20th century explained that excessive stress occurs when the demands made on an organism exceed that organism’s reasonable capacities to fulfill them.  The stress response can be set off  by physical damage, either by infection or injury.  And, it can also be triggered by emotional trauma or by the threat of such trauma.  With many of my clients today I see that their emotional trauma can include persistent anxiety, a chronic sense of feeling overwhelmed and/or a constant or quick to anger state.  Even too much good stress can tax the organism.
Using an example of an elastic band, Dr. Selye demonstrated his theory relating to excessive stress. He suggested that you hold an elastic band between your two thumbs and when the band is left slack, it is symbolic of people being in a restful state such as sleep. When the band is pulled out to a comfortable stretch, it is comparable to people having a regular working/functioning day before returning to a relaxed state. However, when the elastic band is pulled out to an overstretched position then it is a warning to the individual to take note and get back to a comfortable position.The overstretched position has two places to go. It can deplete completely and crumble or break if it continues to overstretch itself. The stress response for many people today – most of whom are knowledge workers – is triggered by the constant demands of work and life expectations.

These excessive demands tax their mental capacities while also sending them into a false state of urgency. A state of urgency triggers the ‘fight or flight response’ – a survival reaction that is needed in true urgencies. However if such reactions are triggered unnecessarily, they can eventually be damaging to the individual.

As a Registered Clinical Counsellor, I have a desk drawer full of elastic bands and often give one to a client. When I give clients this elastic band, many see themselves in the overstretched state ready to break. The work I have then with my client is to help them focus on what they need to do to get back to a healthy functioning level. This simple little metaphor speaks volumes for many of my depressed, anxious and angry clients.



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