Whether it is working towards goals, facing relationships challenges or just getting stuck in a traffic jam, life can often be stressful. How you manage to deal with this stress largely determines whether you are going to be a happy, self-actualizing individual or if you stumble into anxiety and depression. I’ve found a system that allows myself to handle stress very effectively, so even in very intense situations I can maintain my sanity.
The problem most people face when dealing with stress is that they believe that there is only one kind. I’ve noticed three completely distinct types of stress that produce similar feelings of frustration and anxiety. Although the symptoms may be similar the disease is not. The solution to stress comes from using the appropriate response for each of the three distinct types of stress.
The first type of stress you can face is fatigue stress, which results from a depletion of your energy. This kind of stress is very common when you are working hard on your goals and self-improvement. I would even offer that this is a good kind of stress because it indicates you are really out living life.
An analogy of this type of stress would be the muscle fatigue bodybuilders feel after lifting weights. Their muscles are stressed and need time to recover before they can be used again. After recovery from that stress, the muscles are even stronger than they were before. This type of stress is essential in improving your strength and energy.
If you are working hard, beyond your current capacity, you will feel fatigue stress. You can manage this form of stress by recovering your energy. If you continue to work when the stress continues to mount you may do your body more damage than good. Athletes know that continued work without recovery can actually damage the muscles they are trying to train.
What if you can’t take time off to recover? Recovery doesn’t need to mean a week long trip to Hawaii. You can recover your mental and emotional energies by reading a book, exercising or watching a funny movie. If you want to know more about managing stress through recovery, check out my article on Energy Management.
The second kind of stress you might feel is decision making stress. This occurs when you have the power to choose what to do. If the consequences of the decision are large, this can create the typical fight or flight response, creating unwanted stress.
Have you ever gone up to give a presentation and felt stressed about it? Why is that? The reason is because your body felt it had a choice, give the presentation or avoid it entirely. Once you finished the presentation, even if it went poorly, the stress is often significantly reduced. That is because the element of decision has been removed. You already made the presentation so you can’t go back in time and change that, so you simply accept the decision and the consequences resulting from it.
The solution to getting out of decision-making stress is simple: make a decision! Move yourself into a position where you no longer have a choice, where you must do something. If you are stressed out about your poor physical condition, make a decision about it. Set a goal to lose a certain amount of weight and decide to stick to a diet plan.
I often find that after setting big goals I am overcome by a wash of clarity as my anxiety is transmuted into calm alertness. By getting off the fence and actually making a decision you remove this gnawing, unhealthy form of stress.
In order to reduce this form of stress you need to train yourself to make decisions faster as well as more often. I sometimes feel decision-making stress when trying to choose what to eat for dinner. How ridiculous is that? So instead I simply make a commitment that after one minute of debating I will have a decision about what to eat. Getting into the habit of making minor decisions in under a minute and big decisions in only a day or two can significantly shorten this type of stress.
Although some stress results from too much control over a situation, most of the harmful stress you will encounter results from too little perceived control. People stress over the things that they have to do. They have to pay the bills. They have to wake up early. They have to finish a project by Tuesday.
The key to defeating this kind of stress is twofold. The first part comes from raising your awareness. You don’t have to do anything. Everything is within the realm of your conscious choice. You don’t have to pay the bills, wake up early or show up to your job. There is no magical force that moves your limbs automatically to do this, it is a choice.
Take responsibility for your life by stop saying that you have to do certain things and changing that to “I choose to do this.” This strips your phony victim mentality and puts you into a resourceful state. As a vegetarian, there are some times when I don’t have anything to eat in a group situation (such as friends ordering pizza). I could bemoan the fact that I can’t eat what they are, but I switch the statement saying that I choose not to eat it. Realizing it is a choice I remember all the health-oriented reasons I made that initial commitment and I stick with it.
Even in situations where there doesn’t appear to be a choice, you have one. If you are stuck in a traffic jam, you choose how to react to that situation. You can choose to sit and calmly wait or you can get out of your vehicle and run to work.
So whether your victimized stress is the result of the project you need to finish or the traffic jam you are stuck in, the solution starts by accepting that it is your choice. The next step is to fully accept the decision you have made. Stress comes from resisting your own internal decision. You feel work-related stress because part of your mind is resisting the decision you feel you didn’t get to make.
Victimized stress is simply another variation of decision-making stress. You need to decide whether you are going to accept the situation or find an alternative solution. Accept the rude remark given by a coworker, or confront them about it. Whatever you ultimately decide, embrace that decision fully and you will relieve the stress you feel.
The key to managing stress in life is to realize that stress is a necessary component of life, but that it doesn’t have to conflict with your sense of peace or happiness. Controlling your stress starts by identifying what kind of stress you are facing. Do you feel tired, uncertain or victimized? After you decide, you can begin to take the steps to alleviate it.