Stress is one of the most dangerous things for your mental, physical and emotional health. But do you ever get the sense that it’s also, like, totally not real?
When you’re facing a laundry list of to-do’s that you don’t want to-do, a deadline that requires an ungodly amount of work, or an unpleasant life circumstance (being in a car with caffeinated tweens who love Taylor Swift, for example), that thing we call “stress” feels very real. The physical symptoms can be observed: increased heart rate, sweaty palms, constricted throat, shallow breathing, tension, aches, and that drink/doughnut/cigarette in your hand. (Or all three, at the same time. No judgment.)
We know stress feels real and has some repercussions that can wreak havoc on our health. A Harvard Business School and Stanford study last year report found that workplace stress is as bad as secondhand smoke. But even more stinky, maybe.
But here’s the good news. At a certain point in your life and in your career, you will find yourself with more access to more choices, more freedom to re-think ideas you once thought were absolute, and more willingness to be honest about how you can shape your experiences more directly.
And it’s not when you’re a gazillionaire on a yacht with a tanned, toned #squad. Maybe today is your day, and maybe these questions can help you when it comes to how you approach and respond to tense times in your life.
What if “stress” is not a real thing?
When you talk about your “stress” over a prolonged period of time to yourself or others, you make it into a thing. When you make it into a thing, it starts to feel very real – a noun; something you could put a name or face to. Then, it’s like it has a life of its own; an entity that has power to make you do more things you don’t want to do. It weakens you, making you more susceptible to being at the mercy of more stress-inducing situations and even less capable of standing in your power. Rinse, wash, repeat. Not a fun way to live.
Stress is not a bogeyman, a masked attacker, or a camouflage-clothed, gun-toting Trump supporter waiting to bum-rush your totally blissed out day. What if it’s not outside of ourselves at all?
What if “stress” is an experience or state of mind?
You know how people who are experiencing medical issues like cancer believe it’s best to say things like “I’m experiencing cancer” rather than “I have cancer”? It’s more than just a shift in words. It’s taking it from the level of identity (taking it in and owning it as a big part of Who You Are) to the level of something that’s just passing by, temporary, like clouds in the sky.
Stress may start as a reaction to something that originates from outside of ourselves, like a bad break-up, an unexpected turn of events, a situation that may genuinely suck. But don’t those things always pass by?
Consequently, when you say “I am stressed,” you’re giving it a place of power it has no right to take.
How is your “stress” paying off for you?
Sometimes it seems like we treat our “stress” like we treat our general busy-ness or tiredness. We wear it like a badge of honor! We may equate being “stressed” with being productive, needed or necessary. Too many people want a piece of you! You are in high demand! You have so many unique gifts to contribute that only YOU can contribute, hence the all-out attack on your time and talents! Really?
Let’s be clear: you are valuable, with great things to contribute, and if you can truly embrace that (graciously and privately), the choice has a chance to get simpler. You can get real about what you have time and energy to do, and get creative with how to say no to the other things. If you start by sparing everyone from your “stress story,” that’s a good way to gain some time and energy, right off the bat. You may not feel the need to parade your stress around like a show pony, once you realize that it’s really the least interesting thing about you.
Let it pass by.
Life is life. Sometimes we have busy seasons, and at other times, we get to go with the flow. Take advantage of those ebbs and flows. (We’ll have more on this next week.) If you approach life situations, work situations, or even relationships with a “This is going to be difficult” lens, chances are it will be that way for you.
If you approach your world with a “Life is stressful” stance, you are almost guaranteed to prove yourself right.