Tell me what you’re worried about.
Say it out loud and tell me what’s happened (or going to happen) that’s worrying you the most.
Does it come quickly to mind or is it something that just sits in the background? Has it been going on for a while, or is it something new? Are there several things?
So many of us run away from this feeling, like it’s something our lives would be better without. But I don’t think we’d be human unless we worried.
Worrying/stressing about things is the other side of the coin that drives people to achieve, succeed and explore. If we’re worried about how something is going to turn out, then we can make a plan to face it. Even if we can’t make a plan, then the stress involved has physical effects that prepare us to face the challenge.
It seems quite unsurprising to me then, that stress has become so integral to our lives. On reflection, you might even call it “natural.” At one point, people lived in a fairly constant state of worry about finding food, water and shelter. They worried about keeping it when they found it or even not being turned into someone else’s food. Then we developed and our worries developed too, to include things like community and governance and employment and self-fulfilment. But we still sorry about the necessities and what remains constant is our propensity for worry and stress.
If we think about the stress in our lives as an inherent part of being human, then it releases us from the need to eradicate it. In fact, it tells us that even thinking about eradicating it is impossible. So then what do we do with it? Do we just have to accept that we’ll always be worried about something and that our stress will never go away?
Yes and no.
Yes, I think we have to accept that a certain amount of stress and worry is always going to be present. Depending on what we value at any given time, we’re going to be more or less worried about something. But what we don’t have to do is to be subject to our stresses. Apart from the fact that chronic (long-term) stress is correlated very strongly with poor health and lower life expectancy, stress and worry simply doesn’t feel very good.
The answer then, if we are primed to always face some level of stress, is to do two things: create some perspective to minimise those stressors that need not be a big a deal, and, learn how to de-stress. And I know that at first, these answers seem common, even patronizing. But bear with me a second while I attempt to state these solutions in a way that might seem fresh and hopefully palatable.
Now, anyone who’s had severe depression or anxiety knows that feeling better isn’t as simple as just thinking about how things could be worse in order to make you feel better. And quite right, because that isn’t gaining a new perspective, it’s adding more information to your current one.
Instead, like anything worthwhile doing, gaining new perspective involves a bit or work. It involves actively trying to see things from the point of view of someone else. And I would argue that to help alleviate your stress, seeing a situation from anybody else’s perspective can help. Try it. Look at it from your parents’ or friends’ or cat’s perspective. Create an imaginary person if you have to. The point is – you need to actively try to put yourself in their head.
Even if you put yourself in the head of the craziest worrier ever, it helps you gain perspective in how close you’re getting to being crazy. Putting yourself in someone else’s mind is not an easy thing to do, but it can have the effect of curbing those catastrophizing thoughts that ever so insidiously blow things way out of proportion.
Another thing you can do is to learn how to deal with stress. Given that we a naturally prone to worrying/stressing, the aim can’t be to get rid of the stress we have. Instead, your aim is to use the stress productively. Essentially, worry and stress are there as a response to stimuli we think is going to be challenging. Either it shuts us down (to hide and seem insignificant), or, it ramps us up so we can do something about it. So then, what are going to do about it?
If you leave it, it’ll work away at your body and cause any number of conditions. So, again, you need to do some work finding out what it is that uses your stress. Ideally, the energy is turned towards the problem at hand in order to find a solution and remove the cause of the stress. But often, we worry the most when a solution can’t be found.
So we have to direct it elsewhere. The most common way to exorcize your stress is by exercising. But I do want to throw in a word of caution here. If you (and you’ll know if this is you) find that doing something active actually feeds your stress and makes you more agitated, then you’re going to be very resistant to things like this. However, that’s one symptom of an underlying anxiety and/or trauma. This is not the same as the stress and worry caused by a specific stimulus – which is what I’m discussing.
So some people can just jog, others need something more intense like boxing or sex. Others hate exercise altogether. And while doesn’t have to be exercise, it is the most efficient way to de-stress and I did say it wasn’t going to be easy. As well as exercise, games can do it (any type), hell, even working can do it: there are plenty of people out there who have bad home lives and exercise their stress at work. For others, it’s spending time being productive, working on a hobby.
I’ll remind you though. Both gaining perspective and finding how to best exorcize your stress doesn’t come naturally. It’ll take a bit of exploration, and a fair amount of discipline and practice.
A longstanding method for de-stressing is to have a drink (or 5). I’m not going to lie here – that does make people feel better. For a moment. The problem is alcohol is literally poison, and while it numbs some stress, it’ll cause others. You know those people you see out there, happy, unstressed, living healthy lives without a care in the world? My bet is that they have the same propensity for worry as anyone else, they’ve just developed: a perspective that nullifies it; ways of dealing with it better; ways of hiding it better, or; a combination of all three.
What are you going to choose?