As with blizzards and clippers, stress events can be forecast if somebody knows what the precipitating patterns are and can then explain it to the rest of us in ways that we can relate to. A typical example of a major stress event that could have been forecast is the abject and total collapse of Target in Canada. Failure to pay rent? A no-brainer for those of us who are, or have been, tenants or landlords. A clear and distinct signal.
It is said that Target misjudged the Canadian market. It is known that 17,000 people are going to lose their jobs. Sometimes you don’t have to be an expert. Some of us said to ourselves ‘there are too many discount box retailers already – what are they DOING?’ And yet Target came, raised hopes and expectations, and then failed. Its failure is as devastating to many Canadian communities as a season of blizzards can be.
One of the things I recently observed in trying to make my way around my own frozen and snowbound Eastern Canadian city is that I make many more mistakes in selecting lanes and routes than I normally do. When the road surface is so covered in that brownish-whitish stuff that is symptomatic of city streets a few days after a major snowfall, and you’re in a part of town that you’re pretty familiar with but do not travel every day, ending up in the wrong lane is an easy thing to do. The signals are obscured and sometimes even totally knocked over.
And so your journey gets longer for every mistake you make. Imagine the snow is the essence of an external stress event. You do not attempt to make a quick lane change to avoid turning in the direction of the hidden arrow because:
(a) you may go into an uncontrolled skid; and (b) you can’t see well enough through the blowing snow and the frost patterns on your windows to know whether there’s something dangerous in your way.
Stress events are much the same: it is sometimes impossible to gain any sense of direction and very often causes us to freeze up in fear, or to take a quick wrong turn in a panic, ending up in an uncontrollable skid.
Go with the flow and modify your route as well as your ETA. You’re slower, you’re not quite where you want to be, but you’re safe.
Then there’s parking in the disabled zone at Tim Horton’s because you couldn’t see the sign. Only when you walk gingerly back to the car, coffee in hand, carefully monitoring for ice patches, do you see the blue symbol on the tarmac vaguely, through the snowy mess. At the same time you make eye contact with the irate ‘senior’ who has a matching blue tag hanging from the rear view mirror on the windshield. You signal ‘excuse me, I’m blind/crazy/lost’ as best you can, and round it off with a signal that offers an apology.
In other words, even though you have a valid excuse for what you did – that external stress event that blurred the signals – you accept responsibility for the way in which your actions affected someone else, and you’re nice and gentle about it.
When you are stressed your vision isn’t clear: blowing and accumulating snow or other external stressors blur your sight. You become uncertain and you are highly dependent on your memory and your instincts.
My instinct is to slow down my speed and accelerate my patience.
If there’s someone doddering along in front of me in traffic I feel for them: they’re doing the best they can. When a pedestrian hovers on the sidewalk waiting for the traffic to stop so they can cross the road, not only do I totally willingly and carefully stop, but I watch and worry about them as they make their way across the road. The snow on the crosswalk is a strong message that if you don’t pay close attention somebody’s going to fall.
When we’re overwhelmed by an external stress event we are hardly ever the only ones affected by it. We in fact become a community of stressed Canadian residents, employees, passengers, patients – depending on the event. And so here are some golden rules that would probably help if you’re driving in snow and/or in responding to external stress events where the signals are unclear or lost and yet one has to carry on:
- Slow down: impatience or panic will lead to bad decisions.
- Remember how well you did in previous external stress events: you survived and your life carried on – in fact, maybe you ended up in a better place than the one you were aiming for.
- Be gentle and patient with yourself: it isn’t your fault. Even when you make a mistake, apologise – for the impact of your mistake – but know that you’re not to blame.
- Be gentle and patient with others: they’re as confused and disoriented as you are: they also want to arrive at the future they planned and they also may end up elsewhere.
- Get out of the storm when and where you can – wait for it to blow over.
- Consolidate. Think about the opportunities that could open up as a result. You could go snowshoeing or skiing or dogsledding; you could finally make that career change you’ve been thinking about.
We all respond differently to major weather events. Some are excited by what it offers; some are cautious; and some are dismayed. Stress is the same way: some of us are change junkies – when we experience the first signs of stress we say ‘bring it on – I can’t wait to see what happens next!’ Others are so overwhelmed that they become immobilised by fear, and some will continue to plod through the storm as they plod through life: they will get through it and they will get by, because that’s what they do. And we need all those responses, because someone has to get out there and clear the snow so the rest of us can get on with our own things.
This blog is in honour of the hundreds of (mostly) men who have been going all out to dig us out of the mounds of accumulated snow: I love the snowplough guy! And, as for the disabled woman who complained that the sidewalks weren’t cleared quickly enough and she’s housebound as a result, tough as it is to be patient, being nasty isn’t going to get you mobile any quicker.