Feel like you’ve barely recovered from that regularly scheduled year-end stress meltdown, only to start the cycle all over again in January? Here are some ways to ease the pressure this year.
Stress Takes Different Forms
Stress is a normal part of daily life, often to the point where we learn to live with it so well that we may not even notice it. Some forms of stress are healthy and beneficial, such as the physical stress during a high-impact gym session, that heightened awareness when walking alone at night, or that rush we experience when we exit our comfort zone to pursue a goal. Other times, however, stress can leave us feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and stuck. Work deadlines, school exams, financial uncertainty, interpersonal conflicts, and health concerns are only some of the common situations that can evoke high amounts of unhelpful stress.
So, what to do? While we’re not always able to eliminate stress in the moment, we’re still able to influence how we think about the situation.
Common Ways We Can Unintentionally Make Stressful Situations Worse
As stressful as a given situation may be, it’s often how we perceive it and respond to it that determines how much it overwhelms us. Here are some common ways our responses to a situation can actually increase our stress levels even more.
Can you recall a time when it seemed that nothing was going your way, and you ended up overreacting to a minor inconvenience? In these cases, a comment taken the wrong way or a mixed up food order can be enough to spark intense anger or annoyance, or we spend hours replaying a conversation in our minds and agonizing over how we think we came across.
When we’re stressed out, it’s easy to make situations seem bigger than they really are. Unfortunately, magnifying these situations also ensures that our stress levels remain higher than necessary, making it that much easier to continue blowing situations out of proportion.
You attended a party where you felt uncomfortable, self-conscious, and had a few awkward exchanges with the other attendees.
“No more parties again. Ever.”
There’s a difference between missing a work deadline and trying to escape a burning building, but when stress hormones are coursing through us, that distinction is easy to miss. As if simply magnifying a situation just isn’t stressful enough, catastrophizing lets us take it to the next level and exaggerate the implications of an event to our worst possible scenarios. When we catastrophize, blowing a job interview can truly seem like the end of the world.
Your family physician wants to schedule a follow up appointment with you to go over some test results.
You Google your symptoms and assume that it’s cancer.
Jumping to Conclusions
When it comes to stressful situations, we often like to think we can predict the future or read other people’s minds. Not surprisingly, what we intuit tends to work against us. Can you recall a time when a friend asked, “Can we talk?” and you automatically assumed that you’d done something wrong? Other times we might interpret a neutral facial expression as disapproval or conclude that a negative situation is not going to get any better no matter what we do.
Jumping to conclusions has the power to take an everyday situation and transform it into a stressful one by inferring negativity where there may not be any, or making an uncertain situation even more stressful by creating hypothetical future scenarios that produce the most discomfort.
You receive a letter in the mail from your landlord two days after having a small party.
“I’ve never received a letter from them before. The neighbours must have complained about me.”
Stress may be Unpleasant, but it’s also Temporary
Whatever mindset we initially adopt in response to a stressful situation, there’s one important factor that can be easy to overlook in the moment: the storm will eventually pass. I know, easy to say, right? It’s tricky to focus on a future resolution when the discomfort we’re experiencing is happening in the present.
Sometimes the situation has an obvious end date, like when we have a work project due in two weeks. Other times it’s unclear, such as when we are faced with a major life transition. Regardless of where on the spectrum our circumstances fall, waiting for some unspecified point in the future when the ordeal is behind us can feel disheartening and exhausting.
So what do we do when it seems that we have little-to-no control over the situation, but the stress persists and is affecting every aspect of our lives? This is where perspective comes in.
How Do We Put Stressful Situations into Perspective?
Once we recognize the source of our stress, putting the situation into perspective often involves taking a step back and mentally separating ourselves from the situation. We all too often miss the bigger picture when dealing with an immediate stressor, but it’s important to remember that stressful situations are commonplace, transient, and seldom as serious as we make them out to be! Here are a few examples of questions you can ask yourself to help you break the spell of magnification, catastrophizing, and jumping to conclusions:
How much is this situation going to impact me five years from now?
How might someone having a good day interpret this situation?
What is the actual likelihood of my worst case scenario happening?
What would I say to reassure somebody else in my position right now?
What has the outcome been when I’ve been faced with similar situations in the past?
What’s something enjoyable I can’t wait to do once this is all behind me?
While we can’t always eliminate stressful situations right away, we can determine how we perceive them and reduce their negative impact on our wellbeing. The next time you find yourself facing a situation that feels overwhelming, take a moment to step back and consider it from a different perspective. You may surprise yourself!
Are you feeling overwhelmed by stress? Book a free consultation to discuss how we can work together towards a solution!