I have observed an interesting evolution in people, during my career.
Our stress levels are rising—and it often requires far less to stress us out. We get stressed more quickly and more easily today. Our expectations of life being easy or convenient are higher today. We tolerate less frustration. Our coping mechanisms vary but we don’t cope as well without help from outside sources.
Observe with me. I know a woman who endured a full-time job, plus a part-time job. She was a single mom of two children. She was my hero. It was her job to earn the income, pay the bills, cook the meals, lay down the rules and tuck the kids into bed. She didn’t have any help from anyone. It’s enough to stress anybody out. And she did get distressed from time to time. But she never got overwhelmed. Later, she married, and was able to go to one part-time job. Two of her children graduated from high school and moved away. Within time, she gave up her part-time job and was a stay at home mom for her remaining child. She went out more often and was even able to hire housekeepers.
As I interacted with her, we both noted how she had allowed a less stressful life to lead her to be just as stressed. She was not as busy, but she possessed the same level of stress in her life. Or should I say, she allowed it.
When, I reflect on my own life, I see the same thing. I have had ebbs and flows of pressure in my career and my family. When the pressure decreases, I bask in it for a while. It feels like a weight has been taken off my shoulder. Then, however, I notice I become stressed again, even though there is less pressure on me. It’s as though I choose a level of stress for myself, regardless of the pressure and responsibilities.
- I become irritable when waiting in line.
- I get distressed when something’s out of my control.
- I am impatient with students who goof off.
- I don’t like it when a task becomes difficult.
Regardless of our schedules, we choose our stress levels. We allow activities to crowd our minds and we allow both people and expectations to overwhelm us. Sometimes it’s our fault. I know folks with a ton going on and they don’t feel stressed, and other folks with little going on and they seem to be stressed to the max. How can some people keep smiling in their busyness? They choose a life that shuns stress. They don’t let themselves become slaves to it. For them, life is an adventure not a burden.
Resolve at the Beginning of This Year . . .
I suggest as we begin a new year, we make a commitment to choose less stress:
1. Think backwards. Travel back into time and compare lifestyles. When all is said and done, life is easier and better for our generation. It helps me to recall that past generations put up with more challenging times.
2. Think big picture. Remember what really matters, and re-commit to the fact that there’s no need to sweat the small stuff. Sometimes we get stressed over things that aren’t worth the energy. See beyond your immediate situation.
3. Think and thank. Count your blessings. Gratitude is almost always an antidote for stress and anxiety. Stress occurs when we’re overwhelmed by our current circumstances, but gratitude preoccupies us with what’s right not wrong.
4. Think long term. Ask the proverbial question: Twenty years from now, will this issue even matter? Should it cause me stress? If so, begin working on solutions. If not, stop worrying and get on to things that do matter.
5. Choose to make projects an adventure. This one almost always works for me. When I get bogged down and begin stressing over my challenges, I turn them into a game. I decide to make the day an adventure to be lived out and conquered.
It has been said—you can probably achieve less than you think you can in a day, but more than you think you can in a year. Stress comes when we have illusions about what to expect from ourselves or others. Let’s get real and enjoy a less stressful year.
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