The true driver of your stress – Here’s a hint, it’s not your boss, your family, money or your relationships!
When you think about what stresses you out, what comes to mind? For most people it’s things that happen in their day-to-day lives. It’s the unexpected bill that comes in just before Christmas, the difficult meeting with their boss, the challenges in their relationships or just how much they have to try and squeeze in every single day. In other words, most people look at things outside themselves as being the source of their stress. If this were true, the same things would be stressful to everyone, and this is not the case. There are plenty of people who relish having full and busy lives and who just pivot when life throws them unexpected events, taking it all in their stride. This suggests that the true driver of (non-life threatening) stress is inside of you.
How we think has a far greater impact on our stress levels than the number of tasks we must manage each day—or any other challenge that may come our way. There will absolutely be some genuinely difficult situations that we will have to face in our lives (or might currently be facing). Yet, for far too many people, general day-to-day tasks have become overwhelming, often due to their sheer volume. Sure, the pace of life has sped up over the last few decades, but we still get to choose the pace at which we live. It’s just that it’s easy to forget this and as result, we tend to live each day with a level of pressure and urgency that is wreaking havoc on our nervous system.
If we peel back the layers of our stress, we start to see that nearly all of our stress comes down to our perception of pressure and urgency and worrying what others think of us. To put it another way, we care so deeply what others think of us that we place an immense amount of pressure on ourself to be seen or to perform in certain ways. If we’re not seen to be capable, responsible, efficient, kind, generous, caring, successful or hardworking—for example—it (often unconsciously) stresses us out.
And so you run yourself ragged trying to be all things to all people or to move up the ladder in your career because being perceived to be whatever words motivate you is a higher priority than your health. It’s not a conscious priority, of course. You don’t consciously think that what other people think is more important than your health. And yet, what you spend your day doing shows you what your priorities are. So if you tell yourself you don’t have time to make yourself a nourishing homecooked meal of an evening because you have to squeeze more work in, you’re telling yourself that your health is less important than your work.
But I need to pay my bills, you say, and provide for my family. It goes without saying that you have commitments and responsibilities—but I challenge you to be honest with yourself about how much more time and energy you invest in your job outside of what is expected of you or how much more you commit to do things you really don’t want to or probably don’t have enough time for. And if, in this self-enquiry, you realise you go above and beyond, I challenge you to bring curiosity without judgement and ask yourself why you do this.