Stress seems unavoidable. But it’s a paradox because unavoidable as it may be, it also doesn’t exist.

Not exactly.

Your child is hit by a car, and totters between life and death. The morphine drip beeps as you hover over your broken son for weeks, hoping against hope that he’ll open his remaining eye and recognize you. A plethora of emotion overwhelms you, including anxiety and stress.

Everything works out as well as it can for him. Later that month you receive the first of many medical bills. Your modest, middle class income is dwarfed by the high six figure bill. How can you possibly pay this, and still survive? How can you provide your son with the ongoing care he needs? Stress.

Luckily you have a decent job with acceptable benefits. Your company can go to bat for you. Everything will be fine. Except a recent memo lets you and your coworkers know that times are tough, and there will be a round of layoffs in your department. What if you are laid off? How will you eat? How will pay those medical bills? Stress.

Stress is the fear you feel as a result of a persistent threat. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but you can imagine the dire consequences.

Your son dies in the accident, and you aren’t stressed any more. You’re distraught and grieving, but not stressed. Or maybe he survives, but you can’t pay the bills. Once you declare bankruptcy the way forward is clear, and you’re not stressed any more. Or maybe the layoffs happen, and you are passed over. No more threat, no more fear, no more stress.

No one has time to sit and chew their finger nails, wondering if it’ll hurt, as a fist is flying toward their face. You just get punched, and it hurts. It throbs, it swells, a deoxygenated blood fills the sack of broken skin, and a purple bruise forms. There’s no fear because it already happened. You’re just experiencing the clean pain of a punch to the face.

When a threat is bigger, and longer-term than just a punch to the face, you have time to stew over it. To pace back and forth. To let your mind run wild with the dismal possibilities.

Stress is the dirty pain of all the looming threats in your life. It’s the killer force that converts possible hardship, into definite health issues.

Remember that dirty pain is the pain you generate in your own mind, that is totally disconnected from your physical reality. You control whether you feel it or not.

Relax. Or you might end up like Mark Twain.

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” – Mark Twain