Why You’re Stressed and What to Do About It.
Stress happens at the border of certainty and the unknown.
You don’t get stressed when you know what to expect, and you’re in control of your world. Moving from your comfort to your courage zone requires you to give up certainty and move into the unknown. Your stress is less about not knowing what to expect; it’s about the loss of the known.
Stress is a euphemism for fear. It’s not fear as being afraid; it’s the discomfort and uncertainty you must endure to make change a reality. It’s not a natural feeling, and you are forced to confront your fears of failure, success, not being perfect, judgement or the ultimate fear of not being enough.
Tony Robbins, the personal development expert, says that the quality of your life is determined by how much uncertainty you can comfortably manage. The only way through any challenge or adapt to any new situation is to sit in this discomfort for a period until it becomes your new normal.
The stress will always be there, but you can reframe the situation from being stressed to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Then it feels like part of the process without the added story.
Discomfort has so many interpretations; here are some scenarios and what you can do about them:
You want certainty in the outcome.
You get stressed because you want to know the result before you begin. Seth Godin says it beautifully in The Practice, “Worrying is the quest for a guarantee, all so we can find the confidence to press on. It’s an endless search for a promise: the outcome will be worth the effort we put into the process.”
What you can do about it: accept that you can’t always control the result, but you can control taking consistent action one micro win at a time. When you stay stagnant, you reinforce the story of your fear.
If you want to write a book, show up to the manuscript daily and focus on the writing process. Write it without attaching to an expected outcome, such as how many people will read it or how it will be received.
If you focus solely on the outcome and what it could mean for you, you suck the joy out of the daily process. Another way to reframe the goal is to ask yourself, ‘who would I need to be to achieve that goal?’
Every writer dreams of Oprah recommending their book because you know the consequence will change your life. As an avid writer, I ask myself,’ what work would I need to produce to get Oprah’s attention?’.
Now I’m focused on creating something meaningful, which keeps me focused on the process where the real growth happens.
You don’t feel that you’re enough.
One of our most debilitating fears is the fear of not being enough. It’s not being innovative enough, thin enough, creative enough, wealthy enough, clever enough, and it goes on.
No one can convince you that you’re enough until the day you make this decision for yourself. Once you back yourself, the way you face the unknown shifts dramatically because you find certainty in yourself despite the external circumstances.
What you can do about it: make a promise to yourself and keep it. You are fantastic at keeping the promises you make to other people, but when it comes to yourself, you tend to let yourself down.
How many times have you hit the snooze button instead of going for a walk? How often did you intend to do something for yourself but instead put other people’s urgencies ahead of your own?
Your self-confidence is directly proportional to the promises you keep for yourself. When you break the agreement with yourself, your self-worth is rattled, and the self-destructive, hostile inner critic shows up to remind you how useless you are.
What is one promise you can make to yourself today? Can you start walking twice a week? Can you listen to a guided meditation in the morning? Can you take twenty minutes to go and paint that picture you keep thinking about or even cook dinner twice a week?
It doesn’t matter what the promise is –you show yourself with your actions that you matter enough to follow through. Even if it’s one squat, five minutes of stretching or reading one page of the book, it’s not about the quantity of time; it’s creating a ritual that builds your self-trust.
You begin to trust and believe in yourself when you keep your promise while building the muscles of confidence, resilience and self-respect that you can bring to any uncertainty.
It didn’t go well the last time you tried it.
The past can be your ally or foe, depending on how you view it. Let’s say you ‘failed’ at something; this memory has kept you from moving ahead on your goals.
What you can do about it: Beware of falling into all or nothing thinking. Just because it never panned out previously doesn’t mean the same thing will happen this time.
What was your biggest lesson from the experience? Maybe you ignored your health for too long and landed up ill. Maybe you shouldn’t have assumed people knew what you wanted and communicated more clearly.
How have you grown from the experience, and how can you incorporate the lessons, so you are now ready to move forward because of the experience, not despite it?
Have compassion for your younger self; remember they did their best with the available knowledge and resources. As Maya Angelou says, ‘do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’
Don’t waste the lesson; it insults your former self. Use it as fuel to move into the unknown.
You don’t know what to expect.
Let’s say you must make a big decision like changing jobs or moving to a new city. One of the fears you experience is outcome pain, which is the fear of disappointment. The self-talk goes, ‘what if I make the move and I’m unhappy? What if it’s not what I want, and I go through all this upheaval for nothing?’.
What you can do about it: instead of worrying, which is rehearsing the worst-case scenario, do what Tim Ferriss calls a ‘Fear Setting Exercise’.
Fear is uncomfortable, so the initial reaction is to avoid it. But by looking at it more closely, you gain a clearer understanding of your thoughts.
What is Fear-Setting?
It’s a structured reflection exercise to put your decision under a microscope when fear is holding you back and distorting your thinking. It was inspired by the stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger, who famously said, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
You have to have a courageous conversation.
Difficult conversations are never easy. The problem is when you are stressed about the conversations weeks or even hours before the event. You begin to anticipate the worst-case scenario, bring it back to the present moment, and start living it.
What you can do about it: accept that you cannot control someone’s reaction.
All you can do is plan for the conversation; consider the words you want to use, your tone of voice and the timing of the conversation.
Focus on the outcome of the conversation rather than the event. If someone never delivered and dropped the ball on an assignment, consider how you can help them plan better for next time. How do you want to be able to work with this person post the discussion?
Animosity and resentment will never yield the results you want from this person. How can you land the message, so they know you have their back and are there to support them, not break them?
Here are some questions from leadership expert Ken Blanchard that you can ask yourself ahead of the discussion:
· What opinions or judgements do I have that might make me less objective?
· Will giving feedback serve this person, the team or the organization? Or will it serve my need to be right?
· What do I stand to gain from having this conversation? What do I stand to lose?
When you walk into a discussion with this lens, you can feel apprehensive, but that knot in your stomach will have eased.
You expect people to know what you want.
How do you react when people don’t respond as you expect them to? Now ask yourself, have you communicated your needs to this person? Have you explicitly told them what you want? Have you asked for help, or do you engage in quiet resentment and passive-aggressive behaviour towards them when they don’t do what you expect them to?
What to do about it: drop the thought that they should know. That is what stresses you out. Replace expectations for communication. Maybe you want your partner to compliment you more or plan a surprise dinner for you, but you don’t say anything because you think that if you tell them, it doesn’t count when they do it.
Remember, we all have different needs and want to receive love in unique ways. Some of us want messages, some want acts of service, and some want a simple hug.
You will change your world when you can share what you want and communicate your needs. No one can read your mind and know what you want until you tell them.
You’re afraid of delegating.
If you delegated some of your work, how much less stress would you experience? If you could let go of the need to micromanage and control every step of the process, you would have time to focus on the things that matter most.
I know you think no one could do it as well as you, and then you’ll have to pick up the pieces that will take even more of your time, so you may as well do everything yourself.
What you can do about it: see delegation as a permanent solution. Firstly, you are empowering someone in your team to take on more responsibility and allow them to grow.
Rather than see your time showing them the ropes as a waste, reframe this as your permanent solution. Communicate what you want, and your preferred way of doing something but autonomy is what motivates people. Allow yourself to be surprised and delighted. What if they show you a better way?
What if they do an incredible job, and you get more time into your day? That’s a stress-free scenario!
You can’t make progress on your self-care goals.
I don’t have to tell you what you need to do to be healthier — drink more water, make better food choices, get to sleep earlier, stop procrastinating and start moving.
When you find yourself stressing because you can’t seem to get yourself ‘motivated’ or ‘you lack willpower, consider that you most likely have an internal conflict. It sounds like, ‘I want to go for the role, but I’m afraid of being judged. I want to lose weight, but I’m afraid I’ll fail and put it back.’
What you can do about it: link your goal to pleasure, not pain. All human motivation comes down to the fact that you will do anything to avoid pain and seek pleasure. If you associate exercise with pain, losing your favourite foods and punishment, you won’t be motivated to make the change.
James Clear says in Atomic Habis that true behaviour change is identity change. You have to replace the word diet with lifestyle; a diet ends, it’s temporary, but a lifestyle is who you are.
Decide to change your identity; you’re a healthy person. Then do what healthy people do and eat what healthy people eat.
“Indeed, change often occurs when the pain of not changing becomes more unbearable than the pain of change”. — Benjamin Hardy.
You’re facing a severe challenge.
There are times when life happens despite your best planning. Perhaps it’s an illness, a loss or an unexpected tragedy.
What you can do about it: there are times when there is nothing you can do, and you have to move into acceptance. When life happens, and you feel powerless to change it, you have two choices that will shape how you show up; you can either believe life happens to you or that life happens for you.
What separates these two decisions is faith. Faith has got nothing to do with religion. It is that deep-seated belief that there is something greater than us and that life happens for a reason. If you believe this situation is here to teach you or is part of your growth, you can move through it with grace.
Faith allows you to move into acceptance and find an empowering meaning behind your situation. It is not about being passive; it is about choosing resilience and seeing yourself as the owner of your situation rather than the victim.
The ultimate antidote to stress is to let go of the illusion of control.
You can’t change stress, it is a part of life, but you always get to choose how you want to show up to it.
Rather than feel defeated by stress, welcome it in and ask yourself how you can use the stress to grow.
When you feel stressed, rather than see it as something that is defeating you, view it as a side effect of spreading your wings and challenging yourself.
In the words of entrepreneur Tom Bilyeu:
‘No one but you gets to decide how you react. And your reactions are the bricks by which you build the life you want’.
Here’s to your embracing stress,
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