“I’m so stressed out! “ How many times do we hear ourselves or others say words like those? It amazes me just how stressed most folks are. As an ILS coach, I spend lots of time out in stores and on our streets. If folks aren’t competing for the closest parking spaces on a perfect day, they are bumping your ankles with their shopping carts as they attempt to get out of the store four seconds earlier. Of course, you know the joke. What do you get when you spell “stressed” backwards? DESSERT! (everyone chuckles and nods) Funny joke, unless that’s your usual mode of operation and too much DESSERT is one more thing causing you stress. For example, your pants won’t zip. Your blood sugar is out of control. You hate yourself for self-medicating with sweets, again… The very thing that was meant to provide you a mini-vacation from the stressors of life turns its beautiful head and bites you. There must be a wiser route to peace and calm than reaching for food or any other inadequate remedy for the job.
How might stress be defined? A response to an event or situation that calls for a change, threatens the order or safety of your life, or otherwise places an unusual demand on your physical, mental and emotional resources.
I would suggest that most things we allow to stress us don’t really even qualify as forces powerful enough to threaten us the way they do. A parking space, really? Making that green light, seriously?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject of stress these days, wanting to manage it in my own life and help others with theirs. Sometimes it occurs to me how stressed I’m feeling for no obvious reason. It’s as if something is driving me to perform well, do it NOW and make everyone happy in the process. Where in the world is that coming from? This is the inner language I’m usually hearing. “I should…” “I ought to…” “I’d better…” Simply thinking that I should be doing something right now that I’m not is enough to cause me stress. My plan-Either do it or dismiss it.
Recently I was thinking about something that was causing me a great deal of anxiety. Instead of giving in to it, I decided to give it a logical examination and dialogue with myself. It went something like this:
“What are you afraid of, Sheri?”
“I’m afraid of this…”
“Ok, so what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
“The worst thing that could happen is…”
“Why would that be bad?”
“Because it would cause me a lot of emotional pain.”
“So this is about avoiding pain?”
“Yes, I don’t want to hurt.”
“So this is really all about you then?”
“Then it’s not really about anybody else. It’s about you not feeling badly?”
“That sounds selfish when you say it that way.”
“I see… and why do you think you should never feel pain? I’m just curious why.”
“Everyone has pain sometime, I guess. I’ve lived through unthinkable pain before. I will do it again.”
Once I finished following this anxiety to its source, it became apparent that I was the source of my own suffering. My need to control my world in order to avoid pain was causing me more stress than actual events. Nothing had happened yet to cause me deep and searing pain; rather it was suppressing the thought of worst case scenarios that had me nervous and wrought up.
Doesn’t it seem that stress originates more in our thoughts than anywhere else? It’s not the traffic itself that’ the problem. It’s how we feel about the traffic and what thought we choose while stuck in it. “I need to be somewhere else!” “This is so boring!” Two people could face the exact same stressor, yet handle it quite differently. We’ve all seen the clients who have been born with significant challenges and endured heinous abuse, yet take their limitations to unbelievable heights. Then there are those born with amazing advantage that fall into the pit of despair and self-pity. It’s said, it’s not the problem itself but the way we see the problem that’s the problem. Therapists call this the art of reframing a situation. Slap a different frame around an old picture and somehow it looks different. That new frame might cause your eyes to be drawn more towards certain colors or textures that you might have missed before. In the same way, taking our everyday stresses and finding a new frame for them could make all the difference.
As we stood far longer than usual at Bigfoot Recycling Center last week awaiting our turn, my client began to become angry and impatient. A behavior was likely if I didn’t come up with something quickly. I suppose if I hadn’t been practicing reframing so much, I might have missed my moment. I simply responded to her by saying, “Well, we gotta stand somewhere now, don’t we? I’d rather stand here than in the best jail or hospital in town, how about you?” Remembering a host of her own hospitalizations, she quietly replied, “Yeah, I don’t want to go to the hospital and definitely not to jail.” The new frame moved her focus away from the piles of stinky cans on a windy day towards the simple joy of one uneventful day without crisis. And sometimes that’s all it takes…
Written by Sheri Wittmer
Redding ILS Life Coach
Certified Wellness Coach/ www.sheriswellnesscoaching.com