What can I say about stress that hasn’t been said already? Too much stress is bad… etc., etc., etc… We all know stress is bad and I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t want to avoid it. It’s not like we are intentionally going out looking for it, so why does it seem to so easily squeeze its way back into our lives despite our efforts to prevent it?
In this economy, people are getting paid less to do more. Layoffs and downsizing mean added responsibilities to your already full workload. Kids struggle more in underfunded, overcrowded classrooms and relationships now have the added pressure of social media to account for.
Too much stress causes various health problems—some of which can become more serious as time goes on. It can create unhealthy eating and sleeping habits and dwindle a desire to be physically active. There are plenty of tips and self-help books to help combat these symptoms of stress, but I find most of their “solutions” to be unrealistic. There are too many steps to follow and too many things to think about.
To be effective, these methods need to be constantly thought about as they are answers on how to avoid stress, not how to manage it. It’s not realistic to always be thinking about how not to stress. We have so many things on our plates as it is, and constantly thinking about not stressing can be a pretty stressful thing!
Unfortunately, the truth is, you can’t avoid stress and anyone who tells you that you can is a liar (there, I said it). You can eat well, workout regularly, be great at your job and have an amazing support system set in place for yourself, but stress will still find a way to rear its ugly head into your utopia.
But why is stress always made out to be the bad guy? A little stress is a good thing, right? Think about it: it means you actually care about your life. You want to succeed, to meet deadlines, to make sure everything is done as it should be. You want to have successful and meaningful relationships and you want to ensure that you are doing the best for your family. The fact is, there will always be bills and deadlines and taxes and unplanned expenses, but we need learn to look at those stressors as challenges in life instead of threats to our existence.
The word for this ‘positive’ stress is, Eustress. This helps you remain engaged in life, it gives you something to live for. Imagine for a quick second that you are Paris Hilton (awful, I know, but bear with me here). You have never had to work for anything a day in your life, yet you have everything you could ever want and need in excess. You have no family to call your own and therefore no responsibility to keep up with any relationships. You aren’t particularly good at anything which means no pressure to deliver and no one expects anything from you so you have no real goals. Excuse my bluntness here but, what would be the point in waking up every day? What would you have to look forward to?
This sort of meaningless existence is what drives people to depression and feelings of helplessness and anxious restlessness. Having stress in our lives keeps us on our toes. We just have to learn to go with the flow and handle it in creative ways so that we can remain happy and healthy. Ok. You can stop being Paris Hilton now.
So how can perceived stress be transformed into perceived eustress?
- It’s all about your attitude—just change it! That may be easier said than done, but hear me out: If you have a big deadline coming up at work that you are stressing out about, think about it in a positive light- you have a job (which not a lot of people can say these days) and that job trusted YOU with this task. They believe in you and trust in you to get the job done- that’s a pretty big deal and you should feel proud of yourself for soliciting that kind of trust.
- Maintain perspective. Didn’t have enough money to pay your electric bill this month? It’s not the end of the world so go with the flow and break out the candles and flashlights. Play games with your children or have a romantic dinner by candlelight with your partner. Be thankful that you live in sunny San Diego and not somewhere in the snowpocalypse ridden Midwest.
Changing your attitude is not an easy habit to get into, however. But, like any habit, if you keep at it, it will become a part of your everyday life and this is the key. If you spend less time worrying about how to avoid stress and more time thinking about how to overcome it, you’ll find that your stress levels will go down and your happiness levels will go up. This is something your therapist can help you with as well. We can get stuck in our worries and daily stresses, and sometimes it takes a professional with a fresh view on things to help you develop a new perspective on life.
Get yourself in the habit of thinking about stress as a challenge that can be overcome and not a threat that will end the world as you know it. And on days that you feel extra overwhelmed by stress, take solace in knowing that you will get through it and you can overcome it. And hey, at least you’re not Paris Hilton.