Stress is something that everyone experiences and oftentimes, we stress about things that seem to have no foreseeable solution. When I was a kid, my brothers had gerbils as pets because my parents wouldn’t let us have a dog and no one in my family ever had a cat (I’m not sure why.) Anyway, gerbils were interesting little creatures. I remember them escaping all the time and neighbors complaining that mice were taking over the neighborhood. Gerbils spend the day spinning on wheels that make an extremely annoying squeaky, grating noise but go nowhere. I always thought that behavior was stupid and yet, at some time or other, we all find ourselves doing that too, spinning our wheels, minus the noise—stressing about things that are out of our control. So how do we stop spinning our wheels?

First, you need to figure out what you are spinning your wheels about. Sounds simple and intuitive but identifying what it is that you are upset about is not necessarily obvious, so identifying exactly what it is that you are upset about is an important first step. Is it about a circumstance or is it about something someone did or said? You need to identify what it is that has you the most upset, frustrated, annoyed, angry or irritated so at least you know what it is that you are spinning your wheels about.

Second, you figure out why you are spinning your wheels. This is the hard one. You need to know both what it is that you are upset about and then figure out why it is that you are upset, “I am upset because…” Begin with an “I” sentence—“I am upset at (whatever it is) because…” Why does that upset you? For example, “I’m upset with Mitt at work because it makes going to work difficult.” Or, “I’m upset with my husband because I feel we’re growing apart.” “I am upset with not being able to afford a vacation because I am tired and need a break.”

Third, disengage from the outcome. Disengagement means letting go and being open to a solution in contrast to having to be right or vindicated. Sometimes, there is no immediate solution to a problem. Sometimes people just don’t behave the way we think they should or are just plain difficult or wrong. And sometimes life isn’t fair. But you need to take care of yourself and fortify yourself so that you can deal with any outcome, especially things that you have no control over. Disengagement doesn’t mean that you don’t care either way but rather that you have faith in your own ability to handle stuff. Think about it, you deal with stress all the time and solutions happen all the time. Things that you stress about today are things that you probably won’t even remember a year from now. The silver lining to adversity is the ability to summon the strength to deal with the difficult things and the difficult people life casts your way. That separates humans from gerbils.

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