Stress gets a lot of air time, TV time, and print space these days. Mostly we're discussing ways to relieve stress: take some yoga classes, go for a walk, learn to meditate, take time for yourself...... YES, do all of those things! But, that is not what this is about. Today I am writing with the theory that most of our stress is self-made. Yup, you are the cause of your own stress. Doesn't mean stressful things aren't happening. They are. But, most of the stress I hear about in my office and in my classes is self-made. Here's how:
1. We are too hard on ourselves. The high expectations we have for ourselves are unreachable. When I ask a client with something I consider to be too high an expectation I ask, "Do you expect that same behavior from your daughter? Your friend? Your partner?" The answer is almost always "No, but...." and then I get a long circular, almost makes no sense story and rationale for the high expectation. Then, the beating begins. People with these too high expectations beat themselves up with so much judgment and criticism, it is impossible to imagine success ever being possible.
I also see a lot of perfectionism. Perfectionists also create high expectations, but they go a bit further. Mistakes are not allowed. Stupidity (we all do it!) is not allowed. Being human is not allowed. So, when a mistake is made, something stupid is done, or their humanity shows through, perfectionists get so fraught with worry and rumination (think hamster wheel of the same thoughts "what if....., "I should have...." "what can I do to fix it?") that really getting things well done and solving problems with creativity and insight is all but impossible. Anxiety over lack of perfection limits our brain capacity to open up to great solutions. Ask yourself, "Did I do everything I could have to fix this?" "Did I apologize, if needed?" "Did I put something in place to make sure it doesn't happen again?" Then. let it go...
The constant tape recordings of criticism and judgement that we allow to play and replay in our minds are just not necessary and totally NOT helping. Not just perfectionists and those with high expectations have these recordings. Many of us do and the recordings limit us severely from moving forward and creating successful personal and professional lives. Turn those critical recordings off! Just like that annoying song that played on the alarm clock radio and won't leave your head, replace it with something better. The energy to make change in one's life comes from encouraging comments. Not sugar-coated and syrupy, but real encouragement. When the critic has a voice in your head, counter it with encouragement.
2. We worry too much. Thinking about something over and over does not solve it. You know how you suddenly think of where you left your keys while in the shower? This is what I am talking about. Letting the mind move elsewhere allows different possibilities and connections and therefore, different solutions, ideas, and concepts. Get away from that continual worry. Let it go for a while. Give it a break. Do something enjoyable for an hour and see where the worry goes from there. I bet it finds new territory toward a solution or loses significance to the point where you wonder why you worried so much. Allow a little room for faith and trust. You, god, nature, the universe, somebody will come through.....
3. We deny our feelings. Now, I am not talking about walking around blubbering and sad when sad, although if you want to express yourself this way, do it. What I hear most is something like, "I shouldn't still feel this way." Or, "People have it worse than me. Why am I letting myself feel this miserable?" Truth is, you do. Denying it, saying you shouldn't feel it, doesn't change the feeling. You have to change the feeling. Stop spending time on what you shouldn't be feeling and accept the feeling. Let yourself feel it. Then, figure out what to do with it. Maybe forgiveness? Maybe expression? Maybe lots of options will help. See someone or talk to a friend and get an outside yourself suggestion or two.
5. Speaking of control.....we need to stop. There are things in life we can control, but there are many more we can not. Let go of getting angry, upset, frustrated by what you can not control. Example, you can not control rush hour traffic. So, stop getting stressed out about it. Find a workable solution. There are lots of ways to accept what is and make it more enjoyable. Let go of what you can not control.
6. We spend way too much time on what sucks and not enough time on what's great. Easy solution here is to be grateful. Be grateful for every small aspect of your life that is OK, then build from there. You don't make life better by focusing on what sucks. You make it better by focusing and building on what is OK, great, fun, enjoyable, etc. Build on the positive. Or, you'll get better at the negative.
There is a whole lot of stress out there that doesn't need to exist at all. You made it, you can unmake it!