O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so smallOld Breton Prayer
There are times when stress overwhelms us and we find ourselves floundering. We may struggle to effectively manage stress. But if we can consider that a journey of many miles can be undertaken with even the smallest of vessels we can set our sights on finding a way to better manage our stresses.
In the last section we discussed 5 steps to identifying what you may be finding stressful and preparing for change.
- Consider the sources of your stress.
- Write down all those life situations you find stressful.
- Determine how much control you have over each.
- Prepare for change.
- Apply stress management strategies to help better manage those stressful aspects of your life.
Stress tricks your brain.
Remember that good old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”? Well, it turns out that’s not quite true. While words are not likely to break your bones, words–whether from others or from ourselves– can be quite damaging.
Stress management is possible, but oftentimes we get too caught up in the story of our stress and start doling out blame. One of the chief recipients of that blame is usually ourselves. The “I should have” and “when will I learn?” comments only serve to stress us more.
What to do?
The first bit of advice I generally give when helping individuals one on one is: “Limit the amount of time you spend engaging in self judgement.” While we all need to be able to accurately identify where we can do better, spending a lot of time chastising ourselves for the situation we find ourself in does not drive the boat forward. It simply keeps us floundering in a sea of stress.
Grab the list you made in the last section.
- Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper creating two columns.
- Label the columns
- “within my control”
- “not in my control.”
- Enter each of the things on the list into one of the two columns.
- Look at what you placed in the “within my control” column and rank them from most important to least important.
- Look at each item and consider what part of your life they fall into.
- Home life
- For each item ask the following questions:
- Why is this important to me?
- What do I find stressful about this?
- What will be different if I effectively eliminate this stressor?
- Do I think about this differently at different times?
- What needs to change?
- Determine which item you want to work on first.
- While we often want to work on things in order of priority sometimes working on something less important first helps to build skills and momentum that we can apply with greater efficacy to the more important items.
Now that you’ve determined a good starting place, look more closely at each item and ask a few questions about it.
- Where does it come from?
- Are there different ways to think about this?
- If my best friend had this issue what would I tell them?
- What about this situation makes it stressful?
- What steps do I need to take to alleviate this stressor?
Often just answering these questions about your stressor will start to move it a bit. Taking action on those identified steps will carry you the rest of the way most of the time.
In the next segments we will dive a bit deeper into the various areas of life that many people find stressful and look at more strategies for managing stress.