It is commonplace to read news stories and articles written about stress. Many would agree that stress is just a normal part of life. Yet, despite how common it is there are a few ideas on how to cure it for good. Sure, there are lots of great tips on how to calm stress once it emerges. There is definite restoring power in taking walks, sipping tea, and inhaling aromatherapy products. Massages and random days off work wonders as well. However, those effects are short-lived if you simply go right back into the stress inducing context and pace of life. Instead, here are some areas to explore so you can address the causes of stress and truly get the stress out whenever it arises.
One way to deal with stress is learning the life skill of setting boundaries. Over twenty years ago, Drs. Cloud and Townsend revolutionized our lives by giving us permission to say no. In their book, Boundaries, their first chapter is titled, “A day in a boundaryless life.” They share a narrative many can relate to where a person goes through their entire day saying yes to everything, jumping on everything that comes, and ultimately feeling tired and resentful at the end. Isn’t that exactly what stress feels like? You feel out of control as if your life is not your own. You are reacting to what’s happening, rather than responding to or creating what you want. It is a disempowering feeling. The remedy to those overwhelming feelings is saying no when it is appropriate to do so. For many, however, they struggle with that two letter word.
People feel as though it is mean or selfish to focus on their needs. They do not want to hurt or upset others. They might even believe they should handle anything and everything that is asked of them. Those are all myths and they hinder people from setting the proper limits they need to restore a sense of control in life. Boundaries teach that it is not only okay to say no; it is vital. We only possess a limited amount of time, money, and energy and it is necessary to steward those resources properly. Otherwise, some of the consequences of a life without boundaries are stress, anger, and burnout. To avoid those feelings, explore where you can set limits with you and others by thinking about these questions.
Do you need to be accessible to others at all times or can I find time to unplug?
Is there anything extra that you can get off my plate right now? If not, where can you say no in the future, so you do not have this overwhelming feeling again?
Another area that contributes to stress is improperly discerning one’s control in a situation. When individuals have an external locus of control then they are either passive or reactive to what is happening. Everything is happening to them and all they can do is react accordingly. It is always another person’s fault and they believe they cannot do anything about their situation. On the other hand, an internal locus of control is about taking full responsibility. Everything from the weather to your adult children’s behavior is your responsibility to manage. These are exaggerations of course, but they help highlight the point. Neither one is 100% accurate. There must be a balance between the two.
When you feel as though nothing is in your control, you feel depressed, stuck, and helpless in your situation. There is a diminished ability to problem solve and address the situation head on. When you feel as though everything is in your control, you not only feel stressed out all the time, but you also likely feel anxious. You inappropriately take on issues that are not your battle to fight. The healthy response is to take time to evaluate what is truly within your control and what is not. If you can control something, do so. If you cannot, find a way to let it go. You can practice identifying what’s within your control with these reflection questions.
What is the next helpful thing I can do about this matter?
Have I done everything I can realistically do right now?
A third component of stress relates to your outlook. Have you ever noticed how varied people’s responses are to situations? For one person, they get a flat tire and it seems like the sky is falling. For another, they go in for a biopsy and it seems like small potatoes. That would indicate that stress is not the same static experience for everyone. It is subjective. Even your experience with the exact same stressor might vary from day to day depending on what else is going on in your life at the time. Traffic might be mildly annoying on any other day, but after a fight with your partner and a missed deadline at work, it is enough to send you over the edge.
When it comes to perception, you have to become aware of it first before you can change it. Take time to assess your default thinking habits. Do you tend to catastrophize? Do you see things in a black/white, all-or-nothing way? Do you personalize things or rely on emotional reasoning to interpret events? Everyone has these unhelpful thinking styles at different points. A pattern negative thinking, however, only exacerbates stress. It is also the culprit of a whole host of mental and physical health issues. If you want to kick the stress, kick the stressful thinking. Do not worry too much at this point about forcing yourself to think positively. Just work to neutralize some of the negative interpretations about your life and see if it does not start to lighten your emotional load a bit. Reflect on these questions as well to gauge if the stress you are feeling is actual or perceived.
Would I feel as upset by this if I were well rested and well nourished? Is “hanger” (anger due to hunger) amplifying the stress?
Could I think more clearly if I took a break for a moment and came back to it?
Stress affects all of us at some point. No one is immune. Stress is actually not all bad, even though it gets a bad rap. Stress can produce enough tension on us to act and respond to challenges. However, when stress is sustained over a long period of time and goes unchecked it can have a negative impact on your overall health and quality of life. So again, teas and oils and mindful movement are great rituals to integrate into a lifestyle of self-care. But if you want to address the causes of stress and not simply treat the symptoms, think about improving in the areas of setting boundaries, discerning your control, and challenging your perceptions. See if those simple changes do not overhaul your lifestyle and help eliminate the stress for good.