If you’re familiar with my work, you will know that one of my suggestions for reducing stress in your life is to practise gratitude. This is because it’s impossible for your brain to focus on two things at once – hello multi-taskers 🙂 – you can do two things at once but you can’t focus on two things at once. So, when you are feeling grateful, you can’t be stressed.
You may have also heard my encouragement to look for the gifts in your greatest challenges.
While both of these suggestions can be instrumental in reframing stress, it is equally important to acknowledge and reflect on whatever it is that feels like a source of stress for you before trying to put a positive spin on it or turning to gratitude.
When you flip straight to gratitude or positivity, it is easy to feel guilty if you complain about anything. A common internal phrase might be “there are so many people worse off than me”. A helpful reframe, yes. Yet it leaves you having not solved it or resolved to see it differently. Or not having taken new actions or addressed what really needs changing.
Constantly feeling guilty can be exhausting in itself and add to your invisible load. Whereas, if you follow the trail of your stress – with curiosity, rather than judging yourself – you can uncover underlying beliefs and values that shape your behaviours and reactions to what happens in your life.
There is also immense benefit in allowing yourself to feel whatever it is you are truly feeling. You may, for example, be masking feelings behind a label of ‘stress’ because you are trying to avoid an emotion that creates discomfort for you. Some of us learned over the years that it is not okay to feel emotions such as anger, disappointment, grief, sadness and frustration so we avoid or numb them out.
When we acknowledge how something truly makes us feel, we dismantle the power that it has over us. For example, saying to yourself ‘I feel angry about this’ gives you insight into what provokes you and the opportunity to do something about it (or not). On the other hand, it will take significantly more time and energy to sustain a pretence that you’re not feeling something when you are. Or trying to keep a tight lid on it to prevent other people from seeing it. Consider how the feeling is expressed, but don’t deny the feeling itself.
Emotions are transient, especially when we feel them in the moment rather than sitting on or avoiding them. And once you are aware of what actually sits at the heart of your stress, you give yourself the opportunity to change it for good.