We all experience stress at one point in our lives. Questioning your stress may help put it into perspective and ease its effects.
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I’ll never forget the evening a friend called me, feeling stressed out and guilty. She’s a single working mom, and after a long day at work with no time or energy left to cook, she committed a crime.
She let her two daughters eat Cheerios for dinner. Gasp!
(They were thrilled, by the way.)
She felt like a bad mom — like she was failing at life. She felt as if she was the only tired parent on earth who didn’t perfectly prepare endless organic, balanced meals.
Over the phone, as I felt her stress, my only goal during our chat was to make her laugh by dishing up a dose of perspective.
I told her the authorities should be called, pronto. I said, “Gosh, I hope your girls don’t end up in the hospital because you poisoned them.” I also told her that I might even have to re-evaluate our friendship in light of her evil ways.
As a friend, I love to help people alleviate stress. And as a life coach, it’s my job.
Questioning the stress you experience in your day-to-day life versus accepting it at face value as truth could help put it into perspective.
If you don’t, you might experience stress at every turn — work, money, relationships, meals(!) — and then judge yourself for your high-stress levels, making you feel even worse.
Consider asking yourself:
- How stressed am I at this exact moment?
- Is the stress real, a legitimate threat to me? Or is it imagined, more of a judgment of myself or a situation?
- Am I playing a movie in my mind about something that I have no certainty will happen in the future (or that doesn’t even have that much likelihood of happening)?
- Is there a way to be easier and more gentle with myself?
There are three questions I consistently come back to when examining my stress and trying to get to the truth.
1. How serious is this, really?
In my friend’s case, this wasn’t serious at all. There were zero long-term risks or consequences to a one-off cereal dinner.
My mother lived with depression, and we received assistance from welfare. I ate cereal for dinner all the time, and I think I turned out OK.
Consider this: How serious is the situation causing your stress right now, at this very moment?
In some cases, it’s far less serious than our initial somatic response will have us believe.
2. What’s essential here?
When it comes to kids and dinner, the most important thing is that they eat something.
What about your current situation? Is there one simple step or stride forward you can take to resolve it?
It doesn’t have to be all figured out right now, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Try to determine the most essential thing or action you can take and then do that.
3. How can I let this be easier?
This is the best question to prompt your creativity and to take action!
Positive questions can lead to positive responses. And negative questions may lead to negative responses or actions.
Negative questions might sound like this:
- “What am I doing wrong?”
- “Why is this so hard?”
- “Will this situation ever end?”
But if you ask yourself: How can I let this be easier?You may get creative with your response.
I navigated a tricky conversation with a contractor by viewing it as a gentle and honest chat versus an uncomfortable confrontation.
I lovingly asked her if there was a reason she dropped the ball a few times in recent weeks — and there was. She’s going through a divorce. Our clear communication made our working relationship better than ever.
My nearly 80-year-old mum lives in the United Kingdom and has expressed that she doesn’t want visitors or to travel because she’s afraid of contracting the coronavirus.
Instead of forcing her to see me or telling her how sad I am that I miss her, I remind myself that being alone right now is how she’s happiest and feels most safe. And that’s what I want — her happiness. That truth brings me ease.
When I feel overwhelmed, my initial thoughts may be: “I have a million things going on. I can’t handle it!”
But then I remember what overwhelm can represent:A stress response to things actually going right.
Instead of thinking that being overwhelmed is a negative response, try to determine whether this feeling might be happening because a lot of things you’ve wanted are arriving at once.
I was coaching a client recently who felt overwhelmed because she was about to have her second baby, her business was busier than ever, and she was about to graduate with her MBA.
So, what was the cause of her feelings of overwhelm when we got to the bottom of it? Three blessings showing up at once! All of which she’d dreamed of having at one time or another.
If you want to learn more about stress and how to manage it, check out these pages on Psych Central:
- How to Handle Stressful Situations: 8 Tips
- Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress: 9 Methods
- How Stress Can Be a Good Thing
- Coping with Job Stress
If you want to know how stressed you are, consider taking our Stress Level Test to find out.
When you’re feeling stressed out, try to calmly review a plan and your options. Try to take a deep breath and think about your situation.
Questioning the reason behind your stress may help you put the situation into perspective and find a solution that works for you.
Taking a mental exhale may give you your time, energy, and creativity back! And you, your future, and your nervous system deserve it.
If your stress is impacting your day-to-day life, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help. It’s particularly crucial to seek support if your stress is affecting your physical and mental health or seems to be getting worse.
If you’re unsure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.
Susie Moore is the author of “Let It Be Easy” and the top-rated podcast, Let It Be Easy with Susie Moore.