Most Stress Is Optional
It’s hard to admit this, and you may not believe it, but for most of my life I have allowed stress to get to me. I blame my Scottish ancestry! And my perfectionism didn’t help matters. In my work role, I was always pretty chill, but in other parts of my life, especially relationships, stress would sometimes take over, and I would get angry and upset and overwhelmed.
I hated getting stressed, but I honestly thought that it was just a part of life. A normal reaction to stressful events. I didn’t realise how much I could do to reduce my stress response. Things started to change when I started to really understand what stress is, how it impacts the body, understand my own stress triggers and learn ways to manage my reactions. I’m happy to report that over the last decade I’ve gotten a lot better at managing my stress. And now I truly believe, most stress is optional.
In fact, I wrote a more detailed article about dealing with stress which you can read here: Befriending Stress. Some of the research I wrote about in that article was informed by a book called The Upside of Stress written by Kelly McGonigal. You can watch a short video of her speaking about Making Stress Your Friend here. I also found this 30-min video really fun & helpful: How To Deal With Stress & Anxiety – by Srikumar Rao.
My Year Without Stress
Inspired by my research into stress, I set myself a challenge at the beginning of 2020 – before Covid was even a thing – that I was going to try and have a “stress-free” year. Of course, I knew that stressful events would still happen. And I knew that my body would initiate the stress response when stressful stuff happened. But basically I wanted to see if I could get really fast at recognising when the stress response was activated in my body and immediately make a mindset shift to embrace whatever was coming at me in that moment.
Basically, I wanted to see if mindfulness and emotional acceptance could transform stress, overwhelm and frustration.
Well, the Universe sure served up a great year to run this experiment!! It was a hectic, challenging and change-filled year… and Covid was only a part of it. There was plenty of moments where I felt the stress-response kick-in. But armed with my new approach, I was, for the most part, able to re-centre myself and move through the stressful situation without feeling “stressed” or too bothered by it.
Mentally, the mindset shift was something like this: “…okay, here’s a stressful situation, I might not like this, but this is what’s happening right now, just breathe, accept things as they are, and use your brain to figure out a way to handle it…” Of course, I can easily call to mind a number of times where my old familiar stress reaction took a hold of me, and I became frustrated, upset or overwhelmed (like when I was prepping to move, packing, cleaning, and working full-time across 3 different locations).
But that’s okay, I wasn’t expecting perfection. I just wanted to see improvement. And overall, setting this intention to “not allow stress to take over”, made a huge difference to what could have been a massively stressful year.
I found myself able to handle situations that previously I would have allowed myself to get stressed in. I found myself approaching situations, looking out for triggers, anticipating the physical changes of the stress response, and being prepared to calmly handle whatever came my way. I had the attitude of “let’s work with our stress, rather than letting stress take over”.
This showed me that it is possible to manage our stress differently. Like anything else, it is a skill we can develop, with the right knowledge, training and lots of practice.
If stress is something that is affecting your quality of life, then check out the videos and articles I have recommended, and always know that you can come in for a chat with a specific focus on your stress triggers and better ways to manage them. Follow my lead and change your mindset about stress, and learn everything you can to learn to handle yourself better when stressful stuff happens.