Stress Is but a Response

I often need to remind myself that stress is not a stimulus. It’s not something “out there” that happens to us. Rather, stress is a response to external stimuli—actually one of multiple responses that are possible. So while it may be easier said than done (and practice makes perfect, though your mileage may vary, insert another cliché here), if you want a less stressful life, choose a different response. I want to share three recent instances where something happened that elicited a stress response from me that was not necessary.


Within the first half hour of waking up this morning, I dropped my phone from roughly waist height onto my kitchen floor. The phone landed face down, loudly. The last two times my phone fell to the floor, I ended up having to replace my Zagg Glass screen protector. They come with a lifetime warranty but the customer pays shipping each time and must return the damaged shield.

After the second time, I reconsidered my choice of cases and gave up my ultra-thin metallic case, a classic example of form over function, in favor of a Pelican brand product, similar to one my son had been using for months with excellent results. I should have considered this before allowing my gut to clench up as I retrieved my phone from the floor. The phone was quite intact, as was the Zagg Glass shield. Even the Pelican case was like new, not a mark on it.

So you see, my stress response was unfounded. Going forward I will try to be more careful with my phone and little less concerned when it falls again, as it surely will happen. I will also be a fan of Pelican brand phone cases.


Stress issue number two actually predated the first one by three days, which means it had time to ferment and grow. Last Saturday morning, following my triumphant return home from an epic road trip to Oregon and back, I had taken my motorcycle up to Randy’s Cycle in Marengo. By Saturday afternoon, I noticed something quite new in my garage: a fresh oil stain. I could not tell with certainty where on my bike the oil was leaking from, but my initial thought was that the oil was leaking at the drain plug and finding its way to my gremlin bell before dripping onto my previously oil-free floor.

To say that I became stressed over this discovery would be an understatement. After all, I had brought my favorite shop a motorcycle that did not leak oil and they seemingly sent me home, 57 miles away, with one that did. On top of all that, the shop had already closed before I made this unsettling discovery, and it was a holiday weekend, so the shop would not be open again for three days. So there I was, set up with a holiday weekend and no bike to ride because mine was busy marking territory in my garage—something that this brand is not known for.

But here’s the thing: I already knew, with certainty, that whatever the problem, whatever the cause, the folks at my shop of choice would make it right. They had done so before, even when the issue wasn’t their doing. I’ve been doing business with Randy Weaver and company for over three years now. They are known to be the best Victory dealer in all of Northern Illinois and in my opinion, that reputation has been well-earned.


So I got up this morning and rode Miss Scarlett back to Marengo. It was a bit of an inconvenience, but not the end of the world, and in point of fact, I had a rather nice ride. Upon arrival, they took my bike in and fixed the problem, which appears to have been unrelated to any work they did Saturday. It seems that on my way home Saturday, a seal where the shifter linkage passes through the engine case popped out of place, causing a slow but steady leak.

I rode the bike home, stopping a few times along the way to check for a leak, parked her in the garage with a dry piece of cardboard underneath the engine case, and checked again every few hours. No leak.

Episode three… I don’t know for sure what prompted me to go looking for my riding vest, but when I did so, I could not find it. No big deal, right? I probably put it down in an unusual place when I got back from Randy’s this morning… Oh, wait, I hadn’t worn it this morning. Well then surely when I had gone over there Saturday… Nope, I wore my jacket Saturday. Perhaps on Friday, when I had concluded my epic road trip? No dice. It had been cold in Minnesota that morning and pretty cool in Wisconsin, too, so I had worn my leather jacket all day.


Alas, I had not worn that vest since last Thursday, when I rode from Rapid City, South Dakota to Worthington, Minnesota. But surely I had brought the vest home… right?

My wife, Karen, called the hotel, but no vest had been turned in. She also called Randy’s, but I could have saved her the trouble, had I known. I messaged my sister, who had been on the trip with us. Then Karen and I took turns going through the van, the motorcycle, all our luggage, and every room in the house, turning everything upside down and inside out like frustrated DEA agents. Nothing.

I plastered the situation across Facebook, with photos. Almost immediately some of my biker friends began spreading the word. I should note that their response was instantaneous and impressive. I began to wonder what might happen if some of my brethren had come across my vest on the back of some unwitting teen. I must confess, that thought made me smile a little. But inside the space between my ears, stress had been building up big time.

At some point, stress had given way to resignation. That is, I had become emotionally resigned to having lost not only my leather vest, but all the pins and patches that I had added to it over the past few years, some of which were no longer replaceable. The effect was immobilizing me and I hated that, because despite whatever emotional and financial attachment I might feel about that vest, it was still just a thing. And things shouldn’t wield that kind of power over us.

The vest had been in my house the whole time. While passing through my bedroom—which had already been ransacked once or twice—something or someone possessed me to check the top of my wife’s dresser one more time. Then, on an apparent whim, I reached around and behind the dresser, thrusting my hand into the narrow abyss between that chest of drawers and a wall… and felt my fingers brush against something leathery.

“Eureka! I found it!” Similar messages were shared in earnest across Facebook and in text messages.

Again the stress—indeed the anguish—had been unfounded, but I didn’t know it at the time. If I could have even delayed the stress response for a while, I’d be better off.

A few parting thoughts:

  • Whether we exercise it or not, we have the power to choose our response to various stimuli.
  • If you’re going to be emotionally charged, like me, consider leading with positive emotions.
  • Pelican phone cases: good stuff.
  • Randy’s Cycle: good people.

Thank you for hanging with me.

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