Stress is an essential part of our daily lives, and at times, we can feel overwhelmed.
How can you regain control, and how can you be happy in the face of stress?
It’s essential to recognize two things. First, enduring happiness isn’t found when life is perfect because life doesn’t work that way. We, and every aspect of our lives, are ever changing. Different aspects of our lives may be working well while others are not. If your happiness depends on an idyllic stress-free life, you’ll rarely find it, and when you do, it won’t last.
Second, even at the most stressful times in your life, there are some things within your control. When you’re overwhelmed and feeling helpless, you may only see the immovable obstacles and your inability to cope with them.
Yet in almost every situation, you have some choice. The key is to recognize your options and your power to choose. This may be a change in strategy, perhaps a different approach or a shift in attitude. It may be a decision to take a detour or a modification of your short or long-term goals.
I remind patients – and myself – in the face of a difficult situation, that there are three choices. Leave it, change it or reframe it.
If you hate your job, you could consider quitting, but if you don’t have something better lined up, you could try to improve your work conditions.
The greatest stressors for employees can be the workload – too much to do without sufficient time and support to get it all done – or relationships with coworkers. A good and sympathetic manager may be approachable and helpful in addressing these issues.
The third choice is to think about your work in a different way. Is it your attitude that is the problem? Will this job be more tolerable if you see it as a steppingstone to where you plan to be in the future? If you choose to keep this job, would a change in your approach make it more enjoyable?
If you’re coping with a difficult relationship, you again have three choices. I’ve had patients who were struggling in their marriage but when they recognized that they had a choice to stay or leave, that power of choice helped them recognize why they chose to stay.
In the context of our whole lives, our relationships are much more meaningful, and unlike a job, we shouldn’t end a marriage because a better offer came up. We can transform our relationships if we look at one another in new ways and if we make the relationship a priority rather than a competition. Too often, spouses keep an internal list of rights and wrongs, what they’re giving up and how they’re giving in. A relationship is not so much about compromise as it is about growing emotionally and growing together. We can grow personally as we grow in love.
However, if you are stuck in an abusive relationship, you shouldn’t compromise your own dignity, self-respect and self-worth as an individual. You shouldn’t compromise your most important values.
If you’re stressed and unhappy at school, quitting may not be an option. Yet you should ask if your course of study is aligned with what you really want to do with your life. Years of study have to be fueled by your personal passion. What can you do to improve your course load or improve your performance? Do you need more rest? Do you need to be more efficient?
During life’s most challenging times, remember your power to choose.
Coming up: practical stress management techniques.
Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing the insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.” Each day, I will post one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong, twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and my blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.