Stress and stressors are facts of life. There is no argument against M. Scott Peck’s opening sentence in “The Road Less Travelled” that states, “Life is difficult.” … No need to name or enumerate some of the many happenings that make life so; the list would be endless.
Apart from the external changes and challenges life serves up to everyone, some individuals make choices for themselves that create stresses that otherwise need not exist: irrational worrying, waging unwinnable wars, making worst-case scenarios seemingly inevitable or living with a doomsday mindset.
I am not thinking about those who, for whatever reason, choose to live on or push the edge of excitement in their lives – sky divers, bungee jumpers, “Xtreme” sports athletes, other adventurers and risk-takers, etc.. I am talking about those living ordinary lives who walk with unnecessary worries and fears.
The origins of such perspectives are not as important as the mindsets themselves. What is it in a given mind that needs these self-inflicted tensions?
One answer is the inability to distinguish between one’s power and powerlessness.
Much stress and anxiety is about the future. When one lives “ahead of oneself” fear often awaits. It is true that in the future anything can happen, but when that anything is seen as usually bad, fear takes over, creating stress. One may be powerless over future events but not over how one chooses to think about them. A fear-based mindset needs to be challenged, first, by catching it “doing its number” on self and, second, by putting words to it and sharing one’s fears.
Another answer, simpler and more manageable, has to do with procrastination. A list of items not dealt with can create anxiety in anyone. The longer the list, the greater the stress: A critical decision needing to be made “yesterday,” a sensitive letter (endangered species), or email not written or a difficult phone call not returned, a gift not bought, a left-hanging argument, a pesky chore put off, etc.. Dealing with such a list, item by item (try taking the easiest first) can dilute one’s stress-level considerably.
Self-induced stress can be cured by self-induced choices. Not easily, of course. But when one decides to live life moment by moment, to be grateful for its gifts, to look for its surprises rather than its challenges, anxiety becomes manageable. Stress, however, is an important part of life’s energy, a kind of adrenaline that gets things done. Unfortunately, stress does not qualify for the truism that states “One can never have too much of a good thing.”