Now that the holiday season seems like a distant memory, the temperatures have dropped to a record low and everyone you know is beginning their New Year’s resolutions, it is safe to say that January can be quite the stressful month.
Although a new beginning, the New Year tends to bring familiar triggers which add stress to our daily lives; back to school or work, debt from overindulging during the holidays, and even our new resolutions.
So am I saying to do away with any and all changes in the New Year? Not at all! Actually, when it comes to stress, not all of it is bad. Stress can actually motivate you to reach your goals and complete tasks more efficiently (next stop, losing those 15 pounds!).
So what’s the problem? Well, the biggest problem is that our bodies can’t tell the difference between good stress and bad stress. Therefore, instead of completely eliminating stress from our lives, we should learn about how it affects us and how to manage it.
What is Stress?
Stress is a physical response to a perceived dangerous situation. In the days of our caveman ancestors, our ability to feel stress kept us alive – alerting us to potential danger and allowing us to react, either killing the threat or escaping it. The problem with stress, in our modern world, is that we rarely have actual life or death situations to avoid, but our bodies still act in the same manner.
When you feel stressed, your body reacts in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze. Think about the last time you “overreacted” to something and the immediate guilt you felt after the fact. This phenomenon is also known as the Amygdala Hijack. This “hijacking” is an immediate, overwhelming and emotional response to any stressful trigger we encounter.
Identifying Common Sources of Stress
Stress affects all of us; however, we often don’t understand what the underlying source of our stress really is. Therefore, here are the six most common sources of stress and some tips for how to overcome them.
Our inner critic – If you’re like me, you have that little voice inside your head that talks to you. While the primary role of this voice is to keep you safe, sometimes the things it tells you are just outright horrible; “You’re not good enough”, “You shouldn’t have done that”, “You’re going to fail” and the list goes on and on.
Tip: Name this voice and remember that his/her opinion is great but it’s not always welcome.
Control – Our inability to have control over what is happening in any given situation can often be very stressful. People that have this stressor are often referred to as “control freaks”.
Tip: Learn to be okay with situations and things that are out of your control.
Perfectionism – I am a self-proclaimed perfectionist. I used to think that this trait was a good thing, but I’ve learned that it actually leads to a lot of my daily stress (and is why I re-wrote this article 15 times). When we set expectations and standards for ourselves that either can never be met or are hard to meet, this causes a lot of unnecessary stress.
Tip: Understand that things cannot always be perfect and that’s okay.
Competence – When we feel that our competence is being questioned or is in jeopardy, this can often lead us to feel stressed out and like others are attacking us.
Tip: Learn that it’s okay to ask for help sometimes and that it’s not weak to do so.
People-pleasing – When you are constantly worrying about what you say or do and how that affects other people, this can cause a lot of stress.
Tip: As Ricky Nelson said, learn that you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.
What if – Always worrying about things we could have done can be a large source of stress and a never ending battle for many people. There will always be another way you could have handled a situation that might have provided a better and more desirable outcome.
Tip: Learn to be selective about the things you spend your time worrying about.
Learning to Manage Your Stress
Managing your stress is about learning about what makes you stressed and why. Ask yourself the following three questions:
1. When do I feel the most stressed?
2. What are my triggers? (refer back to the sources of stress section)
3. How do I currently manage stress? (whether healthy or not)
Self-help books are great for giving you guidance on how to better manage your stress and learn coping mechanisms that work for you.
I can feel some of you cringing now. Don’t worry. If you’re like me and love a little crassness, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson is a great read. In this book he talks about how to free yourself from giving too many fucks (note: if you’re offended by the language, this is not the book for you!). If you want a preview of what you’re in for with this book, check out his post which can give you a good idea.
Podcasts, TED talks and online TV stations are great resources for learning to cope with stress.
Marie TV, hosted by Marie Forleo, is my favourite go-to resource. In her channel, she talks about dealing with stress but also many other topics to “create a business and life you love”. Check out her video on creating a stress log which can help you get those thoughts out of your mind and body, help you to identify the trigger and, overtime, minimize their effects on your life.
It can be helpful to write down what stresses you out. As mentioned in the last section, keeping a stress log can be helpful for identifying your triggers and learning ways to overcome them.
Not sure where to begin? Use the following template created by Marie Forleo, which gives you a little more information and sections to complete. At the end of the day, the purpose is to get you thinking about your stress, learning your triggers and overcoming its crippling effects on your day to day life.