In my previous article, we looked at the ways that chronic stress is killing us. There are some frightening effects that stress has on the body and mind, and it clearly is an issue that needs to be taken more seriously.
So what is the first step in ending the cycle of chronic stress? Understanding the reasons for our behavior is the first step in changing it. We need to know why we are so stressed out. We need to know how the cycle began, so that we can then find ways to break out of it.
Chronic stress is a deeply engrained pattern in our society. Many of us have just come to accept it as being inevitable. And yet it is not. By becoming aware of the reasons for our stress, we can break these patterns.
Here are some common reasons for chronic stress:
1. We are living beyond our means.
We think that we need to work long hours in order to maintain our "standard of living." But is it really necessary to have so many expenses? Many people don't even question whether having a large mortgage, a new car, cable television, and a new cell phone (with an expensive contract) are worth the trouble. It is possible to get financing and make payments on everything from mattresses to appliances, but is this really worth it?
Paring down on expenses--especially fixed expenses--can do a lot to reduce chronic stress. Ask yourself "why do I have this?" for every recurring expense. Why do you have a car that requires payments? Driving an older, yet reliable, automobile might not be as stylish, but the benefits for your mental health can be huge.
2. We fear being judged.
One of the reasons that we are living beyond our means is that we are afraid of being judged. This is a very primal fear--we don't want to be excluded from the herd. What will people say if we don't have the latest and greatest of everything?
Living with less, learning to say "no" to obligations, and simplifying go against the grain of society, and it's easy to worry about the comments that other people will make. However, it is important to remember that other people's judgements are really just misunderstanding, and that they are only upsetting to us when they feed into our own self-doubts.
3. We are unable to say "no."
This goes along with the fear of judgement. We want people to like us, so we agree to do whatever they ask, even if it doesn't fit into our schedule. In fact, we might even offer to do things before we are asked.
The problem is that over-giving can backfire. When we do not value ourselves, other people do not value our time and contributions either. When we are constantly giving, the people around us begin to take this for granted. We may find that when we start saying "no," our contributions will be valued even more.
4. We fear losing "security."
Gone are the days where we can count on working 30 years for the same company, and then retire comfortably. And yet, we are still trying to find a "secure" situation. We will do crazy, fear-based things in order to try and keep our job.
Working too many hours, over-giving, and spreading ourselves too thin are all ways in which we try to keep our "security." We may even find ourselves involved in office drama and backstabbing--or we may become extremely fearful of being stabbed in the back. All of these sources of stress can go away when we realize that we can't control 100% of what happens at work, that nothing is secure, and that we will be all right no matter what happens.
5. We fear for our children's future.
Just like job security, the future that our children will have is something we don't have complete control over. And yet it is something that we desperately try to control. We overbook our children in every activity under the sun, in that hopes that they will get into a good college and land a secure job. We fear that they will struggle and fail if we don't give them every advantage that we can.
But this source of stress is futile. We can't control our children's future, and when we try to, we deny them the opportunity to learn through trial-and-error. Rather than overbooking their schedules, the best tool we can give them is the ability to persevere, to get up after they fall, and to learn from their mistakes.
6. We are not asking for help when we need it.
Along with volunteering to do everything, many of us do not ask for help when we have taken on too much. We may be afraid that asking for help shows a weakness, or we may be assuming that the answer will be "no."
Delegating is very important, and many people do want to help but just don't know what you need. If you've taken on too much or are feeling overwhelmed, it is time to consider asking someone to help you do what needs to be done.
7. We do not see our own needs as a priority.
This is often because we feel guilty. We do not view ourselves as equal to everyone else, and we have misunderstandings about the importance of saying "no" to an obligation, because we need to spend some time alone.
And yet this often backfires. As we overwork ourselves without taking time to recharge, we decrease our ability to creatively problem-solve and help others. We work less efficiently. The irony is that, when we regularly take time to care for ourselves, we get a lot more work done in a shorter amount of time.
8. We are letting perfectionism get in the way.
Perfectionism is based on a fear of making mistakes. When we are acting in this way, we are trying to control things we can not control and going to extreme measures to prevent anything from turning out in the way we don't want it to.
However, we can't control every outcome. Sometimes we need to simply let go and trust in our ability to improvise and problem-solve as things come up. When we are engaging in perfectionism, we spend far too much time trying to make something good enough, and we are afraid to enlist the help of others.
For help in dealing with chronic stress, consider an individual e-mail, chat, or video session.
Image Credit: "Stressed" by simple_distraction