Essay: Understanding Stress

In almost every condition that we see, we can follow a pattern of misuse to its root, leading to an understanding of what stress really is. In our modern society 'stress' is a catch-all word used to cover a multitude of situations, it's often placed on a pedestal and it might as well be in a glass case which mustn't be broken. A common phrase is: 'stress is a fact of modern life and you can't do anything about it'.

This is not the case.

Try this little exercise: Think of a situation that you would find full of stress, such as being caught in a traffic jam. Now imagine a set of players in that situation; think of friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances, and imagine how each one would deal with that situation.

Do they all feel the same amount of stress? No they do not.

Alexander never used the term stress. It wasn't a concept of his day. The closest Alexander got to describing 'stress' was through two separate concepts: Stimulus, and Response.

Every considered event could be classed as a stimulus. A stimulus can be something very innocent, such as deciding to walk across a room, or it can be something difficult. A difficult or challenging stimulus we in the modern way might classify as a stress-inducing stimulus, for example, having a difficult interaction with a boss, co-worker, or parent.

The key difference in the description is that the word 'stimulus' gently implies that there exists a response and that this can be equally variable.

What Alexander discovered is that response patterns are not fixed and unchangeable, and that generally each individual had their own habitual ways of responding. This habitual response was reflected in both a thinking and physical way; so if the thought led to distress, then the body would reflect this, imprinting the way of thinking into the neuromuscular system.

Alexander also found that the habitual responses were present even in situations where the stimulus was very mild, so that if a person was constantly 'stressed', they would show similar inclinations, although more subtly, even when they considered themselves relaxed.

The most important concept to understand is that stress, in and of itself, is neither predominantly good nor bad, but is a package of two steps: the event, and the response, and that the latter of these two is under our own control. Habit will try to dictate that the style of response cannot be altered, but this is not true.

In all Alexander Technique lessons, this is the simple task at hand, to gently guide the person into undoing deeply set paths of response that are only held by familiarity and habit. As the thinking is often hard to convince, hands-on techniques are used to bring the person to awareness of what they are actually doing both physically and mentally to keep them stuck in the habitual response, and then gently allowing more nourishing responses to occur. In so many situations this allows the person to find a way to promote healing.