We all experience stress. Whether it’s work, relationships, kids, school: every one of us can point to stressful circumstances we’re dealing with. But stress shows up way more often than it has to, and here’s why.
We Produce Our Own Stress
Usually, we think of stress as being the result of specific circumstances. Your kid gets in trouble at school; that causes stress. You have a rough day at work and argue with a colleague; that causes stress. It takes you thirty minutes longer than usual to get home because of construction and accidents; that causes stress. The reality is, however, that most of our daily circumstances don’t have the power to cause us stress on their own. Yes, they can certainly be annoying and frustrating, but the level of stress you experience as the result of any single annoyance is very much dependent upon the way the you interpret or perceive the annoyance, rather than on the annoying event itself.
So we can take it as written that certain circumstances are annoying and frustrating, but the degree of stress they cause us is typically amplified by the way we think about the annoyance. If something frustrating happens to me at work, I can choose to see it for what is – a frustration that bothers me. Or, I can amplify it into something much bigger – a frustration that bothers me and also makes me think about how I never get what I want at work, and how I wish I was working some place else, and how I can’t ever get ahead, etc.
Don’t Fill the Gap
The gap between a simple annoyance and major stressor is typically filled by nothing more than our own thoughts. The stories we tell ourselves about the problems we’re having are often far more stress-inducing than the problems themselves. If you can accept a problem for what it is and avoid letting your thoughts run away with it, you can save yourself from a lot of unnecessary stress. That doesn’t mean the problem just goes away, but it does mean you don’t have to suffer as much stress because of that problem.
So here’s a challenge for you to take up: the next time an annoying or frustrating event occurs, and you notice yourself becoming stressed about the issue, take a moment to stop and ask yourself, “What story am I believing about this situation?” It may be that you’re believing yourself to be a failure, or you’re thinking that somebody is out to get you, or that you can never catch a break. The vast creativity of your brain means endless possibilities for your stories! But stopping to ask this question is a way of giving yourself permission to stop chasing down those stories in your head, look at the circumstances at face value, and let the situation be as it is without adding your stress-inducing commentary to the mix.
It’s amazing how much peace you can find when you stop listening to the stories your mind is trying to tell you.