The Bridge of the America's, connecting North and South across the Panama canal, just like 2Americas.

Stress Management: ¨Water Tight Compartments¨

Guest Writer: Otilia Mentruyt


Changes take place swiftly in these days. We live in an everyday smaller world where communication technology has shrunk distances dramatically and has gone beyond our expectations increasing the speed of change. Globalization is here to stay.

We can embrace globalization and use it to our advantage or fail while trying to stick to old structures that are not useful anymore. In order to adapt we need to develop new skills to enjoy the best of times, our time.


Stress is the sustained response to a stimulus.

It is very common for animals to become afraid or aggressive when put in a stressful situation. That happens in the presence of a stimulus, the body prepares for flight or attack and goes back to normal when the stimulus disappears. This ¨fight or flight¨ response appears to switch on and off depending on the stimulus that creates the stress condition.

In all likelihood the actual danger does not really go too far away but is treated as ¨out of sight, out of mind¨. The defense mechanisms are still ready but the alert situation has passed.

In the human case the dangerous situation lingers in our mind keeping us in a permanent red alert mode even long after the real threat has disappeared. We remember so vividly and we re-live the situation or even anticipate a new danger in a way that seems very real to our body. Our mind thus tricks our body into being permanently prepared for flight or attack.

Our mental skills play against us in these cases. Our body stays ready for action initiated by fear or anger but neither acts nor relaxes because the threats are only in our minds.

Can you imagine how long an animal would live surrounded by predators unable to sleep or eat? Probably not for too long. However, many people live (call that life?) in that kind of stressful permanent situation. This is called distress and the individual generally ends up sick with an ulcer and insomnia. The main difference with animals is that usually the person is unable to identify the source of the sickness as stress. The blame is put on food or a bad mattress while remaining unaware of the fact that your own mind is the one perpetuating the problem.

We need to learn how to use our minds to our advantage and stop its negative activity. In short we need to manage the situation to avoid stress.

Some of the features that keep ships afloat may be the same ones that can keep us mentally and physically healthy. Today we will discuss the principle of ¨water tight compartments¨. This is the ability to separate and draw boundaries around the different areas of our lives. When a ship is damaged in a certain area that sector is immediately isolated in order to insure the rest of the vessel will still function.

We need to develop this capacity on three different levels:

  1. The short term: We need to be able to move from one subject to another, from one situation to the next one. This is especially important today when communications are in command. Electronic mail is available everywhere regardless of day or time. Cellular phones live with us and work gets into our lives. Since we cannot stop this we need to be able to deal with one thing after another without being perturbed. If we can answer a work e-mail on a Saturday and then go back to play with our children and relax we will save our Saturday and, maybe, our life;

  2. The medium term: We must protect all our good parts of life from anything that is not going so well. Our troubled sides must not contaminate our happy time. If I have a row with my partner it is mandatory to be able to work well to get satisfaction out of my achievements. If I am experiencing hard times at work I should not come home unhappy and unable to enjoy my affections;

  3. The long term: No matter how grave my problem may be, it should never mean my life is sinking. Some people seem to believe that when water leaks in the boat is helpless. That may be why they stay inside suffering and waiting to drown. Other people know that they can get out of the flooded compartment and leave the deep water behind.

The question you are asking yourself is: HOW? How can I manage to develop these skills? Here is an easy way to do it: In order to abandon a negative thought you have to replace it with a positive one. So take these steps and be prepared for the next time your mind plays games on you:

  1. Identify a thought that brings you pleasure.

  2. Establish it in your mind using sensorial aids to bring you back to the thought (a special scent, a predominant color in the scene, a particular feeling, a picture, a name, etc.)

  3. As soon as you realize a negative thought is assaulting you get your nice thought into your mind by simply thinking about it or using the sensorial aids.

Globalization and technological development are here to stay. They offer big life enhancements and they bring new risks. Human beings have survived for millions of years thanks to its capacity to adapt. If we don't adapt (to stress), we will suffer the consequences. We have the capacity to adapt to stress levels and to stay balanced, centered and healthy.

Good luck!