For a guy who makes his living, teaching others how to manage stress, you’d be surprised by how many little things bother me.
Just for the record, I really do exercise, meditate, do yoga, take hot baths and breathe deeply on a regular basis. In addition, I’ll do anything I perceive as beneficial to lowering my stress from listening to music, giving myself a mental health day, getting a massage, going for a walk in nature to getting organized, getting counseling and seeking social support.
So this begs the question: How can I be taking all these actions on a regular basis and still be bothered by stress? And more importantly, how can I teach others how to manage stress if I can’t manage my own?
I’ve come to the surprising conclusion (or maybe it’s just a big rationalization) that I really AM better at teaching others how to manage stress as the result of my own struggles with it personally. Someone who is just naturally resilient to stress would probably have a hard time articulating exactly what they have to do to avoid it. In other words, they wouldn’t have as much insight as to what to do about it as someone who IS bothered by stress like me.
This conundrum can be summed up by the old expression: You teach what you most need to learn. And while that’s true for me, let me add, I’m endlessly fascinated with this subject because there is always more for me to learn. So, with that in mind, here are my top 5 (little, annoying) sources of stress revealed. (Yes, I’m outing myself here.)
Noise of any sort bothers me, but what really gets my goat is back-up beepers. I can’t stand them. I really can’t. Leaf blowers that landscaping guys wear on their backs come in a close second. And anyone playing loud music, planes in a landing pattern over my back yard, and ANY helicopter passing overhead is anathema. These sources of stress bother me more when I am ALREADY feeling stressed about something else, so my only defense against noise (since it’s everywhere) is to keep my overall levels of stress generally low. (Which is why I do all those things I mentioned at the top.)
Eckhart Tolle, who wrote THE POWER OF NOW, says that being bothered by waiting in line is a “mind-created fiction.” I agree. Our ego tell us: we shouldn’t have to wait in an overly long line and we believe it. Yet just about every time I get stuck in a long line, I start huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf but with no straw house to blow down. So my impatience with this activity is the result of my thoughts and beliefs, not really the line itself. Antidotes to this stressor are: talk to the person next to you in line, check your phone for messages and respond to them, and my personal favorite: speed-read the National Enquirer while waiting at the grocery store.
When I look in my rear view mirror and see someone a car length or less behind me, especially on a highway, my blood starts to boil. So usually, I just try to pull over ASAP and let the person pass - which completely lowers my stress immediately. But every once in a while - which just proves how insane stress can make you - I deliberately slow down, in order to annoy the person behind me. And yet, the other day, I set my cruise control for just over the speed limit and drove home in the right lane of a not too busy highway and it was SO pleasant. (People who follow too closely don’t drive in the right lane for very long.)
I don’t like losing, period. I’m very competitive. I play a fair amount of tennis, and I know that if you want to learn to play well, you have to play people that can beat you. So, that means you are going to lose. But even though I KNOW I KNOW this, I still HATE losing. For awhile I thought about giving up tennis entirely. Then I decided to focus on what I love about it win or lose: Drinking ice cold water during breaks, chatting with your opponent between games, being outside, and the endorphin rush afterwards.
Reading the work of psychologist Albert Ellis I discovered a concept called low frustration tolerance or LFT. Everybody experiences frustration at times, but people with LFT just don’t deal with it very well. I have LFT and I experience it every time something breaks. The fact that the device has broken causes me to erroneously think: THIS SHOULDN’T HAVE BROKEN! But knowing that I have LFT really helps. So now, I set aside a block of time - usually in the morning when I have more patience - to fix things that need fixing.
Finally let me share one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about stress. Everyone has different sensitivity levels to stress. For BIOLOGICAL reasons having to do with receptors for stress chemicals in the brain, some of us are bothered by it more than others and I happen to be one of those people. So, I’m not necessarily BAD at managing stress, I just have to work harder at it than the average person.
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