In an earlier article (Get some good stress in your life) I talked about good stress but now I’d like to talk about bad stress and how it can become an addiction.
Do you feel the need to be (or to look) busy all the time, to be constantly on the go or under pressure? We all know that stress can cause all kinds of health complications including weakening of the immune system, heart attack, stroke and chronic fatigue, and yet it’s a hard habit to break. We can get hooked on the adrenalin rush of bad stress just as an athlete gets hooked on the thrill of competition. In order to escape this negative (and damaging) pattern we’ve fallen into, the first thing we need to do is to determine what makes us this way.
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Have a think about some of the following statements and whether they may apply to you:
- You feel the need to show others your worth. People will be more impressed by you and find you more interesting if they think you have so much responsibility.
- You say ‘yes’ to everything that’s asked of you because you don’t want to let anybody down.
- You are a perfectionist and find it difficult to delegate or share responsibility with others for fear it won’t be done right.
- You actually work better under stress.
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- You set yourself extremely high standards and feel as though you’re a failure if you don’t meet them.
- Other people take advantage of you because they know you’re an easy target.
- It’s because you’re so disorganised that you are under stress.
Most of us would agree with at least one of these statements, so let’s look at each one and think about how much sense they really make.
You’re trying to impress others? I don’t know about you but the people I’m most impressed by are the ones who seem to have it all together, who are able to take a relaxed and calm attitude to life. They’re interesting because they have such a positive spin on things.
You don’t want to let people down? People are more resilient than you may think. The people you care about and who care about you will understand that you're stretched. They would rather see you happy and enjoying your life and believe me – they will manage to find another solution. If they don’t accept a polite ‘no', then it’s their issue, not yours, and they will come around in time.
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You have trouble delegating? This can actually be seen as selfish and maybe even a little pretentious. It is better to let go a little and trust others. The secret here is to delegate appropriately. If it’s something that is your responsibility and that has ramifications for you, do it, but give some credit to other peoples skills and abilities and accept their offer of help.
You work better under stress? I know people (myself included) who proclaim that they work better under stress but most of us just use that as an excuse to procrastinate. Then inevitably something unexpected happens and we find ourselves in a panic to meet the deadline or fix the leaky roof or whatever it is we were putting off. Is that really working better? Trust me - that's not the good kind of stress.
You set yourself overly high standards? Think about where this may have come from. Your parents? School teachers? The media? It came from somewhere. High standards are very good to have, but unrealistic expectations take the joy out of everything you do.
We need to remember that sometimes it’s ok to compromise. When it’s a decision between racing under pressure to bake your special triple-layer chocolate fudge cake for your expected visitors, or being relaxed and calm and serving them supermarket cookies – Well, I know what I would choose (My friends probably would not believe I actually baked a cake anyway!)
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People take advantage of you? Well, to put it bluntly – nobody likes a sucker. It’s hard to respect someone and walk all over them at the same time. I know a woman (we'll call her Jane) who looks after her neighbour’s child regularly for free, including feeding him. Jane is not happy about the arrangement and wants to stop but when she first offered, the neighbour was in financial difficulty, and Jane wanted to help her out. Time has gone on and there has been no sign of the situation changing. The longer Jane allows it to happen the harder it is to stop.
You’re just disorganised? Hmm… this is also a hard habit to break, but at least you admit it and believe me you're not alone. It all comes down to self-discipline and the art of simplifying your life as much as possible. The less unnecessary stuff in your life, the easier it is to keep on top of.
The most important lesson I’ve learned about self-inflicted stress and the one I would like to impress upon you is this:
Look around at the people you admire the most – people you aspire to be like. What are the qualities in them that stand out? I’m betting it’s not that they’re always stressed and disorganised and tired. More likely it’s that they are happy, calm, confident and know their limitations. Use that person as a benchmark for cultivating your own positive attitude.
Your article reminds me of a syndrome which I used to share with my friends, a syndrome called self-inflicted stress. Most stresses can be managed if you are aware and take action to do something about it. :)