Don’t De-stress - Manage Your Stress

By: Anne Parker, MA, MHSA.

Stress is not a dirty word! Though we have come to think of stress as a negative in our lives, stress is not inherently negative. We need stress in our lives to stay active, motivated, challenged, and excited. If we never had any stress, life would be quite boring and uneventful. We also wouldn’t get much done or enjoy fun and adventure.

Remember that there are two kinds of stressors – external and internal. The external stressors are the ones that we tend to focus on and they are usually the ones we have the least amount, if any, control over. Examples of external stressors might be the 100 e-mails in your inbox, the deadline to get a project done, your co-worker not following through or making mistakes , the “idiot” driver who tailgates or cuts you off in traffic, your child having a temper tantrum, your spouse not holding up their end of the bargain when something has been agreed upon. These are examples of legitimate external stressors. What makes them negative is how we think about them and respond. When we think about or respond to these stressors in a negative way, that’s what I call adding distress on top of the stress.

We usually don’t have much control over the stressor itself. We have a lot of control over the distress we create in response. If I respond to seeing those 100 e-mails with an internal response like - “I’ll never be able to get through all of these! Why are all these people bugging me?” -  I’ve created distress. If I respond to my child’s temper tantrum with internal responses such as - “She shouldn’t be doing that! I must be a bad mother if my daughter is acting this way!” -  I’ve created distress. Managing stress is fundamentally about minimizing the distress because that’s where we actually have control. The stories we tell ourselves about what is happening and the expectations of what “should be” creates the distress. If we change the stories and shift expectations, we certainly still have to deal with the stressor. However, we are able to manage that stressor much more productively and effectively.

In mindfulness, this is why the concept of non-judgment is so important. Non-judgment is the ability to deal with what is, as it is. Non-judgment doesn’t mean you don’t have an opinion or that you have to like or approve of what is happening. Non-judgment keeps you out of distress. Non-judgment allows you to manage the stressor and your feelings about the stressor in the best possible manner with the best possible outcome.

Be at your best! Manage stress by minimizing distress!

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