“I’m so stressed out!” I don’t have the exact data, but this I’m pretty sure this phrase has only been around for the last decade or so. Why has this saying become part of our national lexicon? Because we’re a society that is busy, burned out, over-scheduled, and generally overwhelmed. I don’t think we talk about it enough. Living this highlight reel, go-go-go lifestyle, trying to do it all, without really thinking about what you want lifestyle, is just not good for you or anyone you are trying to lead or connect with in your life.
I also think that for many years, it’s kind of been cool to be stressed out and overwhelmed, it means you were successful, you had “made it.” But made it where? Think about that for a second. If you’re one of these perpetually stressed out individuals, just stop for a minute and ask yourself why. Did you get on a roller coaster and you just don’t know how to get off? Are you continuing to say yes to things you know you should say no to? Are you making the best choices for your future? I may say something pretty controversial here, but here goes… stress is a choice.
April is Stress Awareness Month, so I would like to take the opportunity in this week’s blog to bring a little more awareness to stress, what causes it, and how you can implement daily practices to greatly reduce the stress in your life. Stress is defined as, “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” In the world we live in today – there are adverse and demanding circumstances around us constantly – from deadlines at the office, to spending quality time with your kids, to taking care of loved ones, giving back to the community, to keeping up with The Jones’s, to battling an illness, to much much more. Just think about your day, how many moments of adversity or demanding circumstances to you run up against? Probably a few every hour!
But here’s the thing, those are all external events. Yes, some in your control and some outside of your control. But you always have the choice of whether or not to let them effect you.
Recent research by the American Psychological Association found that the effects of stress (anxiety, anger, and fatigue) have actually increased since last year. The most common sources of stress overall are work, money, and the future of our nation. Let’s dive into about two specific stressors – money and work.
According to BlackRock’s annual Global Investor Pulse survey, money was the #1 cause of stress for Americans, ranking higher than health, family, or work. Why? I believe it’s a lack of understanding, which leads to people feeling out of control – they either don’t have enough money, have too much and don’t know what to do with it, don’t know how to invest or where to invest, should they rent or buy, need to earn more, etc. These unanswered questions cause confusion and paralysis, and yes, stress.
As for the workplace, a study of various sized companies in the technology industry by Comparably found that the #1 source of stress in the workplace is unclear goals. In fact, 41% of workers say that having unclear goals is their top source of stress (followed by commute, bad manager, difficult co-worker, and too long hours). Clarity is key. Without clarity and clear goals, individuals can feel out of control, directionless, and lacking purpose in their work. Just like with money, without clear direction, workers can be confused and develop paralysis about what to do or where to focus, and yes, that causes stress.
While stress can be triggered by a ton of different external factors, I think stress can be boiled down to one key factor – feeling out of control. I believe there is a gift in everything – even stress and suffering. The key is to find the gift. Could there be a gift or a benefit to stress? Sure. I don’t want to go all Pollyanna on you here, but it’s really all about perspective. The gift of stress is that it is signaling to you that something in your life is out of balance or out of alignment. Stress is telling you to slow down. Stress is telling you that you may be doing something or heading down a path that is not ultimately where you want to go or isn’t true to who you are at the core. Listen! And then take action.
One of the best ways to alleviate stress is to meditate. While meditation or counting your breaths will center you temporarily, developing a daily practice of meditation will significant lower your stress long term. Eventually, the external will not effect you like it once did and you will realize that you, the real you, is going to be just fine, regardless of what comes your way. This can take years, but it is worth it!
Practicing gratitude, and along the same lines, practicing generosity is another way to reduce stress. When you are grateful, it’s pretty hard to be stressed. Try it! Gratitude and giving are about getting outside of yourself. Most of your stress comes from being so self-focused. The moment you open the door for someone, volunteer at your church, smile at a stranger, and exhibit generosity of spirit towards another human being your stress level goes down.
Want to get rid of stress even faster? Just let it go! I mean, it’s so silly that something that we have no control over (like the weather or someone driving 10 MPH below the speed limit) causes so much frustration and negative energy. Instead of reacting and getting worked up, which leads to stress (which can last the entire day or longer!), give that disturbance some space and then let it pass through you. Now, this doesn’t mean that you don’t take action on things in life. By all means, pass the car when it’s safe. Allow an event to unfold in front of, but don’t attach your attitude, your actions, or your joy to it. Let it pass and let it go. Create the objective space you need to watch the energy pass through you.
You do this naturally with tons of things. Look around you. The tree that is in front of you right now or in the window, did it piss you off? No, you let it pass through you. It didn’t cause any positive or negative reaction. You didn’t close it off. Use what you know and start applying it to all these external pressures, demands, and triggers that are causing you stress.
Spirituality isn’t about getting something it’s about getting rid of stuff. Negative energy… which is simply stress. I’m not asking you to change how you’re living. I’m asking you to change which part of you is actually living – the personal mind that gets wrapped up in stress or YOU, the one who watches the mind.
Bottom line? Work demands, money challenges, environmental issues, social injustices, relationship and leadership issues, health scares, etc. are not going to go away. They will disrupt your life and trigger stress, but how long do those disturbances have to last? They could be weeks or years or they could be seconds. That is completely up to you. By focusing on letting go, meditating, being grateful, and giving to others, stress will be pass right through you.