Stress is part of every human life, but it’s not necessarily bad.
Positive stress motivates us to change, get things done, learn and grow.
Without the gentle wake up calls from Mom and Dad, my kids may not have made it to school on time. Without their homework and exams, they wouldn’t be motivated to study. Without ambition, we wouldn’t push our limits and achieve our personal potentials. Without discomfort with the status quo, we wouldn’t be motivated to change the world.
Yet stress unrecognized or not managed is negative. It can take its toll on our bodies and our minds.
Consider how you experience stress. It can take the form of physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, palpitations, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation or insomnia. It can affect your thinking, making you more irritable, negative, distracted or forgetful. It can impact the quality of your work and your relationships.
The amount of stress in your life can tip the balance from positive to negative. For example, if a course or a job is too easy for you, you’ll be bored. If the demands of your job match your ability to meet them, you’ll be in a happy state of flow. But when the demands exceed your time or ability, you’ll feel stressed. I see this often in my patients whose workloads increase as companies downsize.
How we think about stress can influence how we experience it. The key is the locus of control. If we feel that we have no control over our situation, we begin to feel helpless, and helplessness begets anxiety. If we feel our situation will never improve, we may feel hopeless, and hopelessness begets depression.
Both anxiety and depression shade thinking and narrow perspective. When anxious, we overestimate our challenges and underestimate our ability to manage them. When depressed, we see the worst in our selves, the situation and the future.
We may fail to see the way out.
So how does this apply to you and the stress in your life today? How can you get out of the negative spiral from stress to anxiety and depression?
Start with your perspective. Take a step back and assess your situation. Consider the locus of control. What aspects of your situation are within your control? Accept what you cannot change, but accept your responsibility to change what you can.
In every situation, we have three potential choices: leave it, change it or reframe it. It may not always be possible or easy to leave a job or a relationship. Even if we cannot change a situation, we can change our perspective on it.
Part of our emotional reaction to a situation is due to the facts of the situation, but a large part of our reaction is due to what we bring into it. That baggage includes our memories of the past and our preconceptions.
In almost every situation, we can be agents of positive change. In big or small ways, we effect positive change in our world and in our selves.