I don’t believe in stress anymore. I think it’s highly overrated so I suggest you just dispense with it.
I’m not talking about the low amounts of stress that cause you to be productive, meet deadlines and do a good job. I’m talking about anything beyond that, because then, by definition, the stress is counterproductive. Don’t wait until you feel your life is out of control and your health and happiness are suffering to fix this. Or maybe you’re reading this because it already is.
I used to do stress to the nines, complete with stress-related pain conditions and being grouchy and irritable. All that stress was standing in the way of enjoying my life and feeling good each day. I’m sure being with me was no Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte (this is how I imagine communal serenity).
So I gave up stress for Lent.
Well. Actually, I gave up stress for me. To benefit me. Giving up stress for Lent just sounds better.
I’m wasn’t sure what stresses other people so I did a little web surfing and found some causes of stress:
- Problems – health, financial, unemployment, emotional, social/relationship
- Unhappiness with situation – social (such as loneliness), career
- Major life changes
- Conflict between belief/values and life choices/situations
You may wish to add a bullet or ten to the list yourself. But to me, it boils down to a simple bit of wisdom, from my man The Bard:
“Expectation is the root of all heartache” – William Shakespeare
Perhaps that sounds simplistic, but I believe most of human grief is self-generated and based on unrealistic or unfair expectations of self, others and the world. Often these expectations are subconscious drivers of our behavior and feelings until they are brought to light, examined, questioned and even challenged.
Let’s re-categorize the above stressors into types of expectations:
- Expecting to be in control – Control freaks and perfectionists stress themselves out because they believe they must control their environment to feel safe or OK (See Healing the Perfectionist and Control Freak) This category includes avoiding necessary change. (See Can You Spare Some Change?)
- Expectations that everything in our lives should be “good”. Even the judgment of “good” and “bad” is unnecessary or even harmful as all events can instead be viewed simply as opportunities or blessings. (See Do Things Happen For a Reason?, Silver Lining of Negativity)
- Expectations of people (including self) to be subjectively good or bad and thus creating unhappiness, conflict, and more trouble. These judgments are often subconscious and may be triggered either by what people do or who they are. (See Self-(Un)Fulfilling Reality, Time is a Wonderful Thing to Waste, I’m the Judge of You, (Not So) Great Expectations, I’m Rubber and You’re Glue)
Now that you’ve boiled your stress list down to one factor that you probably didn’t even realize was controlling your life, you can now deal with the stress in your life in a constructive fashion.
Find the balance between being accepting, but willing to change your perspective and the circumstances of your life. In other words, if I don’t like my job, it’s because I’m having unrealistic expectations about myself, others, or my circumstances.
It doesn’t mean I should be passive about the status quo. I can work to improve my situation there or to find a new job. I can negotiate new salary, duties, space. I can ask for and create changes that I think will improve the work environment. However, until circumstances improve, I do not allow myself to get stressed or upset about what I cannot or have not yet changed. If I feel taken for granted at work, I focus on ways that I am appreciated. If I feel underpaid, I focus on ways that I am rewarded well. (See (Uncover Your) Truth or (Suffer the) Consequences) The struggle itself is a gift and much can be learned from that endeavor.
The same is true with the difficult people in your life. Accept them as they are, because like you, they are trying their best. They, like you, deserve your forgiveness and compassion for being human. Focus on how they are meeting your needs instead of how they are not. It’s OK to try to influence people, but don’t tie your peace of mind to the outcome.
You can give up stress because you don’t need it. You don’t want it. Just do one thing: Change your perspective.
Don’t you feel better already?