April was Stress Awareness Month, sparking plenty of conversations about ways to reduce stress in your life. Reducing stress is important because stress can create a plethora of unpleasant physical …
April was Stress Awareness Month, sparking plenty of conversations about ways to reduce stress in your life. Reducing stress is important because stress can create a plethora of unpleasant physical symptoms that, if unattended, can eventually lead to serious medical problems.
I am challenging you to take the time to read this article with an open mind, because it just may change how you manage stress forever; what I write next will likely tempt you to throw this paper aside, as it will contradict what you believe to be true.
Stress and its derivatives have been used as a noun, verb, adjective and adverb. Medical-minded people consider stress a cluster of symptoms or even a condition. Most people think stress exists outside of them, but I have a different conception: Nothing stressful exists in the outside world. That may really test your sensibilities, but nothing is stressful until you label it as such. Once you label something stressful, you begin to think of it in a stressful way and, before you know it, you are having a full-blown stress response of your own creation.
From a Choice Theory perspective, stress is considered a total behavior, meaning it contains actions, thoughts, emotions and your body’s physiology. Total behaviors are chosen (not always consciously) to help you get something you want, so they are proactive and never in response to something external. If that is true, what could you possibly get from stressing? How is that not caused by external events? Think about the possible benefits of stress. I can think of five, but perhaps you know others:
1. Stress can get you the help you need. While stressing, others may ask if there is anything they can do to help lighten your load.
2. Stress can get you the space you need. Have you ever noticed that when you are stressing, other people tend to avoid you? They realize if they give you one more thing to do, you just might lose it. This affords you the time you need to catch up or to at least avoid more things being piled on top of your already enormous pile.
3. Stress can help you avoid other responsibilities. When you’re stressing, you may tend to focus on the most urgent thing, letting other more mundane responsibilities lapse.
4. Stress can create laser-like focus. If you are a procrastinator like I am, stressing may help you meet your deadline. When there is too much time, you may find it challenging to focus. It isn’t until that deadline is looming that you get down to business and get it done.
5. Stress can slow you down. Yes, that’s right. Stressing unchecked over a long period of time will eventually get you the rest you need because the toll on your health will necessitate it.
I’m not suggesting that you are being manipulative to gain these benefits. This all is happening on a subconscious level. You are only conscious of about 10% of your brain’s activity. The rest operates in the background to determine the behavior with the greatest likelihood of getting you the most of what you want.
Does that mean you are responsible for all the stress you have been experiencing your whole life? Yes and no—yes, because you did choose it, but no, because you weren’t aware of that choice. But now you are… so what are you going to do differently?
Of the components of total behavior, the only ones you can directly control are your thoughts and your actions. The short answer is to change what you are doing or what you are thinking to stress less. Find some tips to stress less on page 13.
Kim Olver is a licensed clinical professional counselor, certified in Choice Theory and Reality Therapy, an award-winning and bestselling author, the founder and president of Coaching for Excellence and the Executive Director of the William Glasser Institute and William Glasser International. She founded the Academy of Choice in 2010 and developed the process of Choice Coaching, which she employs with her clients and teaches to fellow coaches.