Tuesday April 25, 2017
Have you ever had a day when you just kept feeling stressed, even when you didn't need to?
I know the feeling. I think we all do.
A few weeks ago, I had a day like that. I had a flu that had left my torso aching and my chest suffocatingly tight, and on top of that, I'd had over a thousand dollars in unexpected bills suddenly drop on me, at a time when I was already financially strained.
Just sitting up was a painful struggle, breathing did not come easy, and even lying down didn't help much, so I wasn't surprised when getting through the work day was a challenge.
What DID worry me was the fact that when the work day ended, I'd done what I could to deal with the bills, and I had some time to rest and relax, I couldn't enjoy it.
Nothing bad was happening right at that moment, and I wanted to just settle in and enjoy my evening, but problems from outside of that moment were flooding in and polluting it.
Stress has many ways of poisoning could-have-been-good moments.
Sometimes it's because there's legitimately a problem, and there are very real consequences for not solving that problem.
Other times, we feel like a situation is a bigger problem than it is, and it freezes us in our tracks.
And still other times, nothing bad is happening right at that moment, but we still have trouble setting our problems from outside that moment to the side.
How do you keep stress from ruining your happy moments and holding you back from success?
It starts with getting to the root of the problem.
It's important not to ignore negative emotions, but it's equally important to know what they really mean.
Unpleasant feelings are like an error message on a computer. They tell you that something is wrong and needs to be addressed, and ignoring that message will just leave it unresolved, causing it to pop up again and again.
But unlike computer error messages, which at least provide you with some incomprehensible gobbledegook that you can search for on the internet (if you can memorize the string of characters enough to type it into your search engine), emotions can be very ambiguous about why they're there and what they mean.
Sometimes they stem directly from the current situation, and can be acted on just as directly. Other times, they come from other sources.
Today, I'm going to explore three of those hidden sources of stress, and give you some ways to deal with them when they start ruining opportunities and happy moments for you..
Source #1: Past experiences that left a strong emotional impression, and that closely resemble the current situation.
Often, if you feel something more strongly than the situation seems to warrant, it's because your mind associates that situation with something else. For example, if you associate a song with a particularly poignant part in a movie in which that song was played, that piece of music will probably have a more potent emotional effect on you than it otherwise would.
Similarly, if you were frequently yelled at by your mother in a way that scared you, you may come to associate confrontation - especially confrontation with women - with high levels of stress, and reflexively avoid them even if they're necessary.
As a result, if you need to tell a client, business partner, or other contact something that you aren't completely sure they'll be happy with, you might find yourself procrastinating, making excuses not to do it, or telling yourself that the relationship just isn't working out.
You might feel like you're reacting to a threat in the present moment, when what you're really reacting to is events in the past.
If you feel a negative emotion that seems stronger than the current situation warrants, or that's holding you back from taking an action you believe you need to take, pause and ask yourself:
"What other experiences have I had that resembled this situation? Do I feel the same way now as I did then? Is the thing that's happening now really as bad as I think it is, or is part of my reaction coming from something that happened in the past?"
The full process for healing these emotional wounds and mental associations is outside the topic of this blog post, but while you're in the healing process, one quick fix to help you get back in action is to ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that's realistically likely to happen in this situation? Could I handle it, and if so, how?"
Once you've turned your ambiguous fear into specific possibilities, you may find that the worst probable outcome isn't likely to be as bad as your emotions implied. And when you have a plan for dealing with that worst-case scenario, it can help you to feel less vulnerable and uncertain, and to reduce your stress.
Source #2: Physical problems.
When a flu has made your chest so tight that breathing is difficult, it can feel a lot like emotional overwhelm. When you're sick and tired, it can feel like your business is a miserable place to work. And when you're hungry or thirsty, it's hard to have patience, energy and joy.
If you find yourself feeling irritable, stressed or uncomfortable, take a moment to take stock of your physical condition. If there's something like hunger or thirst that can be quickly rectified, take a moment to rectify it.
And if it's something like a cold or flu, do what you can to treat the symptoms, and beyond that, remind yourself that this too shall pass. As the saying goes, "hope is the feeling you have that that feeling you have isn't permanent".
Source #3: Unrelated current problems.
When you're stressed about a looming task or problem, it can be hard to enjoy yourself even during your free time.
One technique that I've found helpful is to address the problem that's causing the stress, deal with the parts of it that I can, and schedule the steps I can't take yet.
That way, I know I've done as much as I can, and the parts that I can't do yet but need to do later - such as phone calls that must be made during business hours - are relegated to a specific space in the calendar, rather than being an amorphous cloud looming over my head.
It isn't a surefire fix, especially when the outcome is uncertain and the potential consequences severe, but it helps to take the edge off.
It might be coming from the present - or it might not.
If you really do have a bad feeling about a situation, and you know that it's specifically about that situation, pay attention. It could be your intuition warning you that you're about to make a mistake, or that something's about to happen that needs to be addressed.
But before you make a final decision or allow your stress to keep dwelling in your mind, it's important to check with yourself and see where the feeling is REALLY coming from.
Do you sometimes feel stressed even when you think you shouldn't?
What techniques do you use to break free of that stress?
I look forward to your comments.