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“I’m Stressed Out!”

Here are some questions to ask yourself that may help.

Key points

  • Sometimes, some forethought can enable you to eliminate a source of stress.
  • Sometimes, a conscious attitude change can reduce overreacting to stress.
  • Recent or distant trauma can create or exacerbate stress. Ask yourself whether the trauma is distorting fair-minded thinking.
  • Sometimes, a symptomatic approach helps: acceptance accompanied by deep breaths, a break, or exercise.
The Digital Artist/Pixabay
Source: The Digital Artist/Pixabay

Many of my clients are stressed out. And yes, I can get stressed out too. Here’s a composite example:

At work, a guillotine hangs over my head. Family is important but maddening. For example, I scheduled a birthday party and invited everyone. Well, my cousin went crazy—“Didn’t you realize my anniversary is the next day? I’m planning for that. You didn’t even have the decency to consult me!” Family is great but it’s exhausting.

Then there's the money pressure. I live in New York and have to give half my mere middle-class income to federal, state, and city income taxes, plus property tax, gas tax, phone taxes, cable taxes. It's endless. The media keeps telling me I'm privileged. Well, if this is what privileged is like, I hate to think what oppressed is.

Could any of the following suggestions for managing stress help you?

An often wise first step is to see if a stress's source can be eliminated or at least reduced. For example, you say you feel that "at work, a guillotine hangs over your head.” Could that source of stress be reduced by one or more of these: improving a skill, making better use of time, engaging more effectively with boss or coworkers, changing boss, changing jobs?

On the personal front, you say that “family is great but exhausting.” Are there any family members with whom you could spend less time without causing World War III? On the financial front, would you net benefit by cutting expenses on housing, education, car, clothes, or eating out? Or, you’re living in New York, among the most expensive and most taxed locales. Would it be wise to consider a move? In recent years, there’s been outmigration from places like New York and California to lower-cost states.

Sometimes, a change of mindset can help. For example, you understandably care about losing your job. But would it reduce your stress if, having done what you reasonably can to keep your job, you remember that if you lost your job, it could be for the best? You're in a job in which you’re not very valued, and as long as you hold high standards in your job search, you may well end up happier.

On the relationship front, might it help to recognize that even though you’ve long felt that family is central, in the larger scheme of things, it may not be quite so important? That would make it easier to shrug your shoulders at family members’ human failings. Remember that you choose your friends but are thrust into your family with no choice in the matter.

Sometimes, a recent or even long-past trauma can exacerbate stress. For example, if you've lost a number of jobs, you'd understandably be more worried about losing the current one. In such a case, might it help to realize that your past experiences have made you a better employee now or positioned you in a better-suited job, so undue fear is unjustified?

Sometimes, acceptance helps: Once you’ve reduced your stress per the above, should you just accept it as one of the downsides of living? If so, when you find yourself feeling stressed about something, do you want to practice suppress and distract: Say stop and redirect your thinking to something constructive or pleasurable? Or if you can’t make yourself do that, or even if you can, might it help to take a few deep breaths or do some exercise, if only to take a walk?

The takeaway

Some stress can be positive, energizing us to do our best. But to the extent that stress is hurting us, is there one or more of this post’s ideas that you’d like to try, if only as an experiment?

I read this aloud on YouTube.