While it may seem like stress is coming at you from all directions, there are only two real sources:
- Stress we absorb from circumstances, and
- Stress we create for ourselves.
It’s important to recognize the two sources, because it gives us a little more control so we can choose a healthier response.
First, think about the circumstances that cause you stress (clients, team members, cash flow, family, etc.). The list can be almost endless, because it involves all of life’s inconveniences and complexities. These are the circumstances of life, and they will be there all your life in some form or fashion.
Now, about that self-created stress. It’s less obvious than the circumstantial stuff. Self-created stress comes from the story you’re telling yourself about your circumstances. And since it’s coming from your head, it travels with you wherever you go. It’s an unhealthy companion, but once you recognize it, you can choose your response to it rather than simply reacting habitually.
As you go about your life, ask yourself some questions. Do you feel pretty steady most of the time? Are you generally physically healthy? Do you eat well and not drink too much alcohol? Do your team members, colleagues and family seem to enjoy your company?
If you can answer yes to all these, you’re probably dealing with life pretty well. So far, so good.
But what about those mortals who may not be so evolved? Typically, we add to our circumstantial stress by telling ourselves stories about the very circumstances we’re facing. For example:
- The world as we know it will end if this one particular thing I’m working on does not go perfectly;
- My projects and deadlines are obviously more important than anything else;
- I’m completely alone, and nobody could possibly understand what I’m going through.
See what happens there? Our perceptions of a situation added to our stress. Our thoughts about a difficult circumstance increased the difficulty.
The destructive behaviors and consequences are familiar: we yell, sulk, or shut people out. We get physically ill. We damage our professional and personal relationships. Perhaps worst of all, our reactions infect other people, affecting their productivity and happiness.
Millions of words have been written on how to choose different responses to stress. You’ve probably read them, yet you still might not be changing your responses. Old habits are hard to break, but here’s an important question:
Aren’t you exhausted by your typical reactions?
The good news is, you can choose differently. Here’s how:
First and always, notice how you’re feeling. Stop for a second and check in with yourself. Then, if you feel stress beginning to take over, do three simple things:
- Take deep, slow breaths. Lots of them.
- Feel your body: where your feet are, how your hands feel, what your gut is doing, how fast your heart is beating. That’ll put you back in your body. It’ll stop your story from spinning in your head, or at least slow it down a bit.
- Repeat this mantra silently to yourself: “I choose peace instead of this.” It sounds silly, but it will allow your mind and heart to rest a minute. And when stress is kicking you in the teeth, a little rest might be just what the doctor ordered.
These steps are small, intimate, internal changes that can be vital to your happiness. They have the power to increase your self-awareness and to reframe your view of things. They allow you the space to create a different, healthier story, and to improve your responses, behaviors, and consequences.
As always, it’s your choice.
Melinda is Thriveal’s Community Group Facilitator. She believes that creating a happy environment at work is not just a noble goal: it’s smart business. After nearly a dozen years as a marketing director for an Albuquerque CPA firm, election to the Association of Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame, and another dozen years on her own, Melinda long ago adopted CPAs as her tribe. Using humor, directness, and clarity, she shows professionals how to understand what they really want. Then she helps them get it.