There was a time, perhaps in your childhood, when only adults experienced stress. The adults might not have known the word ‘stress’, but they experienced it. There was a living to earn, a family to provide for and raise, parents to look after, social and community roles to fulfill: adults were under pressure.
Children, by contrast, were said to lead carefree lives. No responsibilities, no worries. They were loved and provided for, and all they had to do was to go to school and study and play. Life was easy for the kids.
Today, even 2-year olds are stressed. From going to classes with parents, weekday activities, weekend classes, social events, technology, trying to learn the alphabet, knowing their table manners, how to speak with adults of every age – they have already begun the juggling act. And it is vital that they keep all the balls in the air. Children of all age groups learn this from their parents: no matter how old (or young!) you are, you cannot afford to let anything drop.
As a parent, you try to make it easier on your kids. You show them how to juggle so many things. (And they don’t even have to deal with half the stuff you do!) You show them how you make lists, prioritize, keep to a schedule, and then make time for relaxation. Yes – you’ve even managed to make time to ‘de-stress’! 🙂 So maybe every first Saturday of the month you head off to a spa early in the morning for a full-body massage. Bliss! 🙂
Except that you’re scrambling to wake up and get to the spa, and the moment your massage is done, you’re back on the treadmill, achieving goals and managing stress.
I have a slightly different suggestion. Just for a change, try not to manage stress. The moment you feel you are stressed, take a break. Act like this is the last straw, and you can’t handle any more.
I can see your disbelief. What?! You’ve spent months of your life reading up on how to manage stress, how to handle increasing amounts of stress without breaking under the strain, and along comes some idiot suggesting you undo all that learning and practice; suggesting you start crying ‘Wolf!’ at the slightest sign of stress! Well, the way your life is right now, all you’ll be doing is taking breaks all day long – nothing will get done!
Excellent! 🙂 I’m more convinced than ever that you need to stop managing stress. In the process, you’ll also teach your kids to not-manage-stress. What you’ll really be doing is teaching them to stay off lifelong physical and mental health issues.
Take a moment to think about it. Why do you want to increase your tolerance to stress? So that you can accomplish more?
That’s like saying you must keep playing – even after your muscles have cramped up, and you’ve developed a hairline fracture from stress. Why? So you can tell people I can play even when my muscles have frozen and my bones are broken? And how well do you think you’ll be playing in this condition? And what’s the point of it anyway? The only thing you’ll get is frozen muscles and broken bones!
Quit this madness.
Look at your life when you ‘manage’ stress: You’re worried about someone backstabbing you at work. You’ve got this under control – when you get home, your family doesn’t see how stressed you are. You feel good about your ability to ‘manage’ the stress.
You haven’t slept too well because of the office situation, and you have an argument with someone at home – your partner, or your child. Again, you dig into your well of patience and tolerance, and don’t blow up. You keep with the script, getting things done, making sure everyone’s ready and out the door when they should be.
The argument is piled on top of the work stress; but you’ve got it ‘under control’. You feel even better about yourself – you can manage ‘more’ stress.
You drive to work. You don’t need me to spell it out. You manage this stress as well. Pat on the back. 🙂
Get to work. Your supervisor makes an unreasonable request of you, or makes an uncalled-for comment. Especially in view of the cagey situation at work, you put your best face on it, and doggedly soldier on. Super! 🙂 You are the king / queen of stress management!
Sorry to burst your bubble, and welcome to the real world. As you go through your work day, the feelings of irritation, resentment, worry and annoyance simmering inside you bubble up, till you can’t concentrate on your work. You turn in less than your best. You can’t concentrate; you miss obvious facts, draw unwarranted conclusions; things just don’t come together.
More stress. More worry. Drive back home. Child calls: “Please pick up some special craft paper for a project.” Partner calls: “Honey, I’ve got stuck with some urgent work. It’s my turn to fix dinner, but I’ll be home really late.” You remember: partner was planning some fancy dish, for which the ingredients are in place. You can only make burgers, and all you have at home is sliced sandwich bread. The queue at the supermarket is serpentine. At the craft store, you can’t figure out the kind of paper your child wants. Ten minutes on the phone trying to figure out which kind of craft paper you need to buy.
You get home to find your children complaining about each other, or about what happened at school. Or they say, “Oh no! Not burgers again! We were looking forward to…”.
E-X-P-L-O-S-I-O-N!! Then guilt…
But there is another way: the not-managing-stress way.
You get home worried about a situation at work. You spend time with the family, and then tell them you want to take time out to think about something. You shut yourself up in a room, or go for a walk, or listen to music… Basically, you deal with your fears and all the what-ifs of the office situation. You feel better. You don’t lose so much sleep at night.
When someone pushes your buttons in the morning, you get mad, but instead of acting ‘normal’, you say, “I’m mad, so please don’t talk to me for a while. I need to calm down.” Going through the morning routine without further provocation calms you.
You drive to work and take a few minutes to work out the kinks in your neck and shoulders from the tense drive, or chat with your colleagues, or drink a quiet cup of coffee at your desk. You’re fresh, and ready to do your best at work.
Your boss makes an unreasonable request. Instead of shouldering the burden, you take a mental time-out, and consider the request. You figure out how you want to deal with it; you make a conscious choice, and feel empowered. No stress. The day goes on like this.
This is the only way you can be sure that YOU are the one making decisions, doing things. Otherwise, you will merely be reacting, much like a puppet whose strings are jerked this way and that by people and circumstances.
Do you know when I figured how wonderful not-managing-stress really is? The first time my daughter told me, “I’m much too angry to talk to you right now. I need some time by myself. I’ll talk to you when I’m feeling better.” 🙂