AAAAAAAAARRRGGHH!!!!!! What Stresses You Out?

DSC_0036“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” –Reinhold Niebuhr, The Serenity Prayer

Hello friend,

I had a major personal victory this week. I had an important morning work meeting in a distant part of town, and I had to drop my daughter off at camp on the way. She is in a very close race with her brother for the title of “World’s Biggest Slowpoke,” so I was fairly relieved to turn on the car and see that we were only a few minutes behind the time I planned to leave. I figured that if traffic were at all reasonable, I would make my meeting on-time. On-time is very important to me, as I cannot stand to waste other people’s time or disrupt the flow of an event that started without me. I find tardiness not only unprofessional but also rude, and I do NOT want to be that guy.

Anyway, there we were, making pretty good time as we pulled into the parking lot at camp and started getting out of the car. “Where’s your backpack?” I asked. “Er….,” she mumbled as her eyes scanned the car. “Oops,” she said apologetically as my heart sank. Immediately after the sinking, the same heart exploded with adrenaline upon my realization that I was going to be late for my meeting.

Here was my moment of truth. Was I going to go my usual route and have a near-heart attack for the next 30-45 minutes as I allowed my lateness to consume me, panicking right up to the moment I arrived at my meeting and affected by it long after? Or, was this time going to be different?

I won’t bore you with the details, but I am so pleased—and surprised, frankly—to report that I did not let the stress win this time. For whatever reason, I accepted the circumstances and simply did my best. I was magnificently calm, and wow, what a difference! It was amazing. And totally new.

Lateness is one of the few things that consistently stresses me out. What else does? Money does—or rather the spending of money—which is why I try to not think about it (or spend it) very often. Uncertainty about my future employment and how I will make that all work around caring for my kids is another thing that brings me stress when I think about it. That’s another one that, most of the time anyway, I just have to choose to not think about.

I can thankfully say that I am not a big worrier and am quite optimistic about the future. It is only if you shove a situation in my face—like being late or an unforeseen major expense, such as a car or appliance breakdown (or last year’s garage door adventure)—that I stress about the present circumstances. If you make me think about my next job, you can stress me. But I generally have control over that.

Basically, if I stay present, I am mostly cool. It is only since I have taken on a family that I have taken on the financial stress, though admittedly I have never liked to spend money. Same with the stress about the future: I never had it until I had others that I was responsible for.

Lateness stress? Well, I think maybe I am just hardwired for that. I remember one day in seventh grade when my Dad was driving me and my brother to school across town. When we were most of the way there, my brother remembered that he had forgotten something at home. The moment my old man turned the car around, my heart began pounding out of my chest. We were guaranteed to be late. I was completely stressed out, trying to calculate in my racing brain how many miles per hour we were averaging to figure out what time we would make it. My blood pressure was off the charts!

When I think about it now, though, I don’t know if that was my aversion to disrespecting someone’s time—as it is today—as much as it was a fear of getting into trouble, which is another way to stress me out, it now occurs to me. I was always so tense around authority figures—school principals, police officers, etc.—when I was a kid, sure that they were about to bust me (even though I was very much a rule-follower). I think I am past that now, though I suppose that was the origin of my stress around tardiness.

Whether that remains or not, or if it is just about courtesy and respect, it still tenses me into a ball to be running late. Of course, having children—particularly my two slowpokes and their many scheduled activities—is a wonderful test of that quality! That is plenty for me. Working with someone who is tense all the time has shown me how miserable it would be to carry around that much stress.

I am going to do my best to keep my mind right and deal peacefully with what arises. I am so grateful to have my journal to help me to work through my stressors and find my way to clarity and serenity. It has helped me this week as I have processed my own thoughts about stress for this letter, as well as the actual stress of the deadline to get it to the screen in front of you now.

One of the issues that has arisen for me in thinking about stress is whether I am simply in denial about some important issues, burying my head in the sand in order to maintain a peace that would be better off being shaken up by addressing these issues. As I mentioned, I stress about money and the future if you make me think about it. If you don’t, I don’t. Is that a healthy or unhealthy denial? Of course, I want to say it is healthy. In this light, stress management is simply a matter of what you focus on.

The more I stew on it, though (as I write these words), the more I am coming to believe that managing my stress and eliminating stressors from my mind is about embracing what I can control and not giving my energy to the things I cannot.

At the moment, the amount of money that comes into my house and what will happen in my future career are not really in my hands—out of my control. So, although I can take steps to work toward a bigger bank account or better career opportunities, to actually spend energy on worrying about them beyond that is pure folly, not to mention the recipe for stress. (A-HA Moment: Maybe what I thought was denial is really a natural wisdom I didn’t know I possessed.)  

The same applies for my “Lateness Stress.” When I am already late, what can I really do about it? Nothing! So, to panic about it all the way there is a giant waste of my energy. I learned that this week when I talked myself into a peaceful drive to a meeting I would arrive late to. Instead of being miserable for 40 minutes from the moment the writing was on the wall, I chose to focus on the moment and what I could control. It became a truly enjoyable and relaxing drive, windows open with the Summer wind caressing my skin and me enjoying a rare drive in solitude. All because I let go of what I could no longer control. Imagine that!

Can I do it again? Can I make it a habit? Well, that remains to be seen. But I have a model now. There is proof that it is possible! And it felt so good, so it seems like a worthwhile endeavor. I sure could use less stress in my world.

How about you? What are you stressing about? Open up your journal and explore the things that weigh you down. What are your biggest burdens? Are you one of the lucky ones who don’t fret about money, whether you have it or not? How much stress do you feel at work? Is it just the nature of your profession, or is there something about your particular workplace (or yourself) that makes it that way? Do you carry work stress home with you? Do you need to? Do you stress about your future, whether it is related to career, health, relationships, or something else? Are these things you have some control over right now? Are you doing something about them? How much does your standard level of Optimism/Pessimism dictate your stress level? Would you like to be more optimistic? Which things that you stress about would you be better off simply ignoring? Do you seem to like having something to worry about? Do you know anyone who is consumed by stress? Do you enjoy their company? When interacting with them, do you find yourself becoming more stressed (or more negative), too? Which of your stressors have you always had and seem to come by naturally? Which have you developed more recently? How much of your stress is controllable? Is stress just a matter of what you give your energy to? Is it more about the Serenity Prayer idea: focusing only on what you can control? How complicated is this riddle? Leave me a reply and let me know: What stresses you out?

I wish you peace,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you to look at your life and your point-of-view in a new way, pass it on. Let’s help others to lighten their loads. Peace is a gift to be shared.

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