You bury your head in your hands. You’d really like to run screaming from your cubicle, but for one, that would get you instantly fired, for two, your shoes are definitely not made for running. But the stress! Not only does your job stress you out, but there’s your family, friends, chores, errands, social media to keep up with – AARGH! It’s enough to make a grown man/woman weep.
So off you go to yoga/pilates (how to make the time for that is yet another stressor), or meditation class, or get up an hour earlier to run, anything to relieve the tension that seems to invade your every waking moment. I take that back – your every moment - because getting a good night’s sleep is a rarity, and even in your dreams it seems you’re stressed.
You think “Wouldn’t it be great to be a trust fund baby, or be able to take early retirement? Anything so I could just sit on a beach, drink pina coladas, and enjoy the view the rest of my days, stress free.” Well, not so much. I don’t know of any studies on trust fund babies, but certainly the studies on who’s happiest in retirement show that those who retire into “sit on the beach” mode end up dying but a few years later. Whereas those who retire from a job, find interests that stimulate them and are busier than ever, end up thriving and living long happy lives.
So it’s not really stress that’s the culprit, it’s how you look at it, and how you respond to it. Basically, stress is nothing more than stimulation, and as the studies on retirees who thrive show, you need stimulation in order to stay alive – mentally, physically and emotionally.
Stimulation is a good thing! Too much of it is a bad thing. And that’s generally what we’re referring to when we cry out, “I’m stressed!!” When you’re feeling “stressed” what’s really happening is you’re overwhelmed with too much stimulation from the outside world.
Why does that matter? Because there’s a world of difference between how you can deal with being overwhelmed by the situations in your life versus being “stressed.” “Stressed” is an emotional response to a situation. So you look for ways to soothe your painful emotions: thus the yoga/pilates, meditation, running and so forth. All of which are great and supportive of your overall health and well-being, but may not do much to alleviate what’s actually overwhelming you.
The first thing to do when you’re feeling “I’m stressed!!” is to take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “What’s overwhelming me?” “Everything!” is not a helpful answer. Break it down into specifics. Because it’s only by looking at the specifics of the situations stressing you out that you can deal with them; undo, if you will, the overwhelm.
Secondly, check your boundaries. Most overwhelm comes out of our failure to set good boundaries. Whether it’s letting your boss know that you’re happy to do overtime one day a week but not more, or informing your kids that you will no longer be cleaning their bathrooms – they’re old enough to do it themselves and here’s how, or telling your S.O. that you appreciate his/her respecting that 15 minutes of quiet you need upon coming home before launching into the evening drill, all these are ways of setting boundaries and reducing overwhelm.
Thirdly, prioritize. Determine what’s the most important thing you want to accomplish in your job, with your relationship, your friends, your family, yourself! Then schedule your time first and foremost around that most important thing, and stick to it. Let everything else take second, third, fourth place – and if need be, eliminate some activities altogether. Nowhere is it written that if you don’t update your Facebook page every day, life as you know it is over. Try once a week, or once a month, whatever fits. Maybe your top relationship priority is your weekly date night. Great! Don’t let anything get in the way of it, and “date” with gusto.
It’s all about taking charge of your life. About allowing the stimulation that feels good to you, while actively, proactively, setting boundaries and prioritizing such that you don’t take on more stimulation than is right for you, and as a result, spiral down into overwhelm.
Anytime you feel that “I’m stressed!” emotion creeping up on you, stop! Remember it’s but an emotional response, and you can greatly diminish your stress by dealing directly with the situations that birthed that emotion.