Stressing over stress: reframing your struggle

Let's talk about stress, baby. Let's talk about you and me. Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.

(Yes I did just change a word in a Salt -n- Pepa song, don't get me started on Shoop and Whatta Man!)

By definition stress is essentially any strain or tension affecting your emotional or physical self.

The fascinating thing is that nearly every movement of your body - every type of pressure of daily living - is stress. I have so much stress! Stress has become an umbrella term that covers nearly all of the negative forces that act upon us.

Pressure = stress. Anxiety = stress. Exercise = stress. Parenting = stress.

The term is wholly adopted as something to avoid while completely excluding the positive forces of stress. There are positive stresses!

Because, gravity. Gravity is a stress. Withstanding the constant leveling pressure and holding oneself upright - with good posture no less - is a stress. But it also helps us stay rooted to the planet so... pretty good stress to have, no?

So since stress is universal to living on planet Earth lets get really clear on necessary and unnecessary stress, and what to do about both.

Is this really necessary?

What is it that's weighing you down? Work stress, you say?

What is it about your work that is stressful? What is it that makes you put your head in your hands and close your eyes and think, I can't do this anymore? Deadlines, a frustrating co-worker, feeling under appreciated? Get really clear on the root cause of your stresses. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the emotional impact of stress and miss the underlying red flags. Identify the flags.

Or perhaps your stress is expectation. I submit that most of our First World Problems are derived from the very notion that our expectations are a monumental chasm away from reality or reason. It is mind-blowing to me that in my daily life, in my relationships particularly, so much of my stress and frustration are a result of completely unreasonable expectations of others (or myself).

How reasonable is it to believe I can go make returns at Target when I have just 20 minutes until I need to pick up my daughter (and Target is 12 minutes away from her school)? Come to think of it, why do I keep shopping at Target? I went in for lotion and walked out with a closet organizer! But I digress...

That stress of being late to pick up my daughter is completely avoidable! And her frustration at her mother, who is late again, is completely unreasonable because... because this is me we're talking about. I'm often late because I just taaaaalk.

See, the difference between necessary and unnecessary stress is control. I know that to have reasonable expectations for myself I have to maintain self control through planning. I plan out my days, my menus, and my family's activities. When I plan it out I can see clearly what my expectations are and adjust accordingly.

Understanding what we can and cannot, what we will and won't, control is the delineation between mandatory or avoidable stress. Because sometimes I just don't want to control things! Sometimes I'm tired and I let things go (again with the children or chores) and then chaos creeps in and I drown in it. I could have chosen to handle it, but I let it go and I reap what I sow (and admonish myself the entire time I'm setting things to rights). Completely avoidable.

Necessary stressness

Okay, so it can seem impractical to just say: let go of what you can't control (even though that is essentially what I'm saying).

But wait! I do understand! What you can't control can still control you -and often does. We are often forced to form ourselves around the overwhelming obstacles of a joyless job, or a chronic illness, or loss. But we know we can't live there for long, don't we? We know that it doesn't feed our souls to dwell in the darkest corners of our struggles. Frustration and resentment only breed more discontent. So we have to add a diversion to distract ourselves while we work toward the finish line, whatever that finish line is for you.

Underachieving for the win!

That diversion is the Bare Minimum. I am in love with this practice!

Don't get me wrong, I do not advocate for half-assing life. But we're talking about Survivin', Thrivin', and High-Fivin' here, which is a process to steer your ship from scarcity to surplus (more on that later).

So here goes: the Bare Minimum is a list of things you have control over that make you feel like you've kicked today's keister. And I mean very specific and very small things. A morning routine is often a great start because when we begin with a win we're more likely to choose wins throughout the day.

Because winning feels awesome.

Chay's example:

  • Journal/schedule my day every morning over coffee

  • Shower and dress

  • Put on mascara

  • Feed my family healthy meals

Don't judge me. This is my Barest Minimum. I am not a complicated person. I need only to bathe and have mascara on to feel like I'm the boss. The beauty behind this is that anything more, anything at all, is a bonus.

If I make my bed? Gosh, I am so responsible! Grandma would be proud.

If I work out? Look at me, taking time for myself! And wow! I'm really improving.

If I also put on blush? Look out, Supermodels, I'm coming for your job!

And as you establish your Bare Minimum you begin to realize how much stress you'd been unnecessarily adding by having an indistinct and lengthy must-do list.

Doing more with less; it really does make you more grateful. I encourage you to try it.

Over time when those bonuses seem to consistently occupy real estate in your day you can add them to your Bare Minimum list. And then maybe it'll just be a Minimum. But I do advocate for always keeping it minimal because the more space you have -- the more room stress has to grow.

When stress is the best medicine

Have you ever looked back at a period of your life and thought, that hardship made me who I am today. And you feel a sense of gratitude for the difficulty? That's a good indication that you're learning to use stress to your benefit. But in that stressful moment is another story...

It is hard to embrace stress when you're enveloped by it. It can be a real challenge to see the future growth over the mountain when we're trudging through the swampy valley. It's hard, it's ugly, and it is not fun at all. Not even a little bit. And if you have to sit down because you're overwhelmed. Do it! Sit down and feel your feelings. Scream, cry, let it out. Because it IS hard. It is often completely unfair.

But listen, you can't quit! That's not an option. Because even if you throw in the towel you're still in the swamp. You can't let your feelings control you forever. You have to wipe your tears, quiet your mind, and make a plan to get out of the swamp. Sure, you might change your goal and alleviate the pressure to make it over the mountain but you still have to wade out of the swamp to solid ground.

So look around for the distraction. Dig in to the actual work you're doing. Don't focus on the mountain, focus on the next swampy step and celebrate every. single. one.

And changing your goal within the swamp? That is not failure. That is survival. And guess what? Sometimes we make it to solid ground, take a breath, and realize we've made it this far and we can go over that mountain after all.

Stress Schmess

Stress is universal. No one is exempt. We can choose how it affects us by focusing on what we can control and how we react to what we cannot. We can grow in resilience. We must.

If we are to be the mountain movers, the doers of all the things, the influencers, the boss babes, the champions, then we must not allow stress to define us. We must not succumb or fall victim to. We must learn to walk gracefully through the fire, as though it were our plan all along. As though it were our carefully choreographed entrance onto a stage with pyrotechnics and theme music and absolute confidence.

That's a show I want a front row seat to.