Tell me if this sounds familiar. You were doing fine. Life was busy, but you were managing your work, your personal life, and your health.
And then, something changed. Perhaps not suddenly or dramatically. Possibly, you can’t even figure out exactly when things changed
And yet, you know that things are different.
You crossed what we call the Stress Threshold.
What is Stress?
Before we talk more about the Stress Threshold, it’s helpful if we define the word “stress”.
In Chinese medicine, stress can refer to many things. Here are some examples:
- A marital spat.
- Studying hard for a big exam.
- Eating too much cake at a wedding.
- Breathing in toxins while painting your living room.
- Staying up late and sleeping poorly.
- A cold and rainy day.
- Sitting all day.
- Getting a mammogram.
- Moving house.
- Having a child.
What do all of these things have in common?
They all put a strain on your body’s energy (called qi). Any one of these things is no big deal. But stress is cumulative, and the body’s energy can only handle so much.
This gives us our working definition of stress:
Stress is anything that puts a strain on your body’s qi, or vital energy.
The Stress Threshold
To understand the Stress Threshold, let’s look at your own situation. You were doing fine. You felt in control, and relatively healthy.
Your threshold looked like this:
This is how most people live their lives. They are just hanging on. They are resisting the stress in their life, but the situation is fragile. If something happens — and we all know that shit happens — then they quickly cross over the stress threshold.
It could be a car accident. Or the end of a relationship. Even positive changes, like getting married or having a child, add stress to your life. The end result is the same — you cross the stress threshold.
The Problems Begin
Once you cross the stress threshold, problems start to appear. Basically, your body no longer has the qi to manage all of its affairs.
Something has to give. Maybe not right away. But down the road, you’ll be able to trace it back to this moment — the moment when the straw broke the camel’s back.
Now your threshold looks like this:
This is exactly what happened to me in my 20s. After college, I was just hanging on, like in Figure 1.
I was okay. Not great. Not terrible. But then, two years later, I got hit with several stresses in a row: I quit my job (my boss was an unethical jerk), my girlfriend dumped me, and my best friend stabbed me in the back.
It was like a combo-punch of stress, and it hit me hard.
My energy couldn’t handle it. A year later, I was clinically depressed. I also developed low-back pain, and I started getting chronic bronchitis.
Of course, the depression didn’t come out of nowhere. The tendency toward depression had been there for years, and it runs in my family too. But until I crossed the stress threshold, it didn’t show itself.
It’s important to remember that different people have different reactions. The same combo-punch might not send you into clinical depression. It might cause digestive issues. Or high blood pressure.
But the same thing is happening below the surface — your body no longer has enough energy to heal itself.
The Snowball Effect
Once you cross the threshold, things tend to snowball. This is called a negative feedback loop.
For example, let’s say that getting married is what pushes you over the stress threshold. Your body can’t handle the stress, and you start getting anxiety attacks.
Two years later, the anxiety is so bad that it affects your relationship with your new spouse. You fight often, increasing your stress levels even more while simultaneously weakening your immune system.
All of this is happening because you crossed your threshold.
So how do we fix it?
Well, you can try to lower the stress levels. You’ve probably tried that. So you probably know that it’s difficult to do. By all means, do your best with this, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work.
There’s a better solution: Raise your resistance to stress. If you do, then the level of stress won’t matter as much. Instead, you’ll have a safety buffer, almost like an emergency fund. It looks like this:
Even though I have far more stress in my life today than I did during my 20s, I don’t feel it. My resistance is so strong that I’ve got a buffer in case more stress suddenly comes in my life.
It took me years to get here. It’s an investment that I’ve nurtured over many years. I did it with qigong, tai chi, meditation, diet, and lifestyle choices. In many ways, it’s my greatest asset.
This doesn’t mean that I’m not under a lot of stress. You can be exposed to colds and flus and still not get sick. And that’s pretty much what I do with stress. I’m exposed to a ton of it, maybe more than ever, but my resistance is high, so it doesn’t affect me as much.
What You Can Do
There’s a lot you can do, but you have to be motivated. If you’re not motivated, if you don’t faithfully nurture your stress resistance over time, then nothing will change.
People who are in the “just hanging on” stage aren’t usually motivated. Unlike our cars, when it comes to our bodies, we don’t really believe in prevention. With our bodies, we do something that we would never do with our cars — we wait for things to break.
When the problems begin (figure 2), people still aren’t motivated. Usually, it’s not until things start to snowball (figure 3) that people show up at my door asking for help.
“From the bitterness of disease man learns the sweetness of health.” – Catalan Proverb
Whatever phase you’re in with your stress, if you want to start making changes, get my free downloads here. They’ll give you tools that you can use immediately.
After that, read this article:
This article contains everything you need to start managing both your stress levels and your resistance. You don’t need a lot of money, or even a lot of time. What you do need is willpower. It takes discipline to take care of your car, to get the oil changed, check the belts, and pay for maintenance. Do you have the same kind of discipline for your body?
Or are you going to wait until something breaks? Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.