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How Much of Your Stress Do You Create?

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We often think that others cause our stress—when we actually create much of it all on our own.

Once upon a time, when people asked, “How are you?” almost everyone said, “Good.”  Even if that wasn’t always exactly true, in general, that was the overall sentiment.

However, today when asked, “How are you?” an alarming number of people respond, “So stressed.”

But here’s what’s crazy. We often create our own stress.  We do so when we believe that we have to do something. But, in fact, we’ve put those imaginary restrictions on ourselves.

And here’s where these illusionary boundaries create even more havoc.  If we’re in a chronic state of stress, then we’re more likely to respond from our primitive parts of the brain, rather than our cortex.  Ironically, such reactive responses just perpetuate and accentuate the existing stress.

So, here’s a suggestion. Write a list of statements that describe what consumes your time and often generates some form of negativity in your life,  Then ask yourself:  What might I let go . . . beginning today?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • I think I need to “fix” my child.
  • I believe I can “change” my spouse.
  • I insist that everyone meets my expectation of neatness in our home.
  • I place a lot of emphasis on personal grooming.
  • I obsess on whether I’ll ever get promoted.
  • I resent that my salary is not as much as I’d like it to be.
  • I act as though I am a super-parent.
  • I try to please (fill in the name of the person)—even though it’s never enough, no matter what I do.
  • I worry whether my child will be accepted at a good college.
  • I say yes to more commitments than I can handle (because I don’t know how to say no).
  • I’m concerned I’m not putting away enough money for retirement (or emergencies).
  • I’m jealous that my parents give way more to my sister (even now that we’re adults).

Now go back and rate each of your statements, using a scale of 1-10 (10 represents the most stress).

First, rate how much stress is attached to each statement if you continue to hold on to that thought or action.  Then rate how much stress you imagine you would experience if you let it go.

For example, what if you decide that you cannot really change your spouse, and so you no longer try to do so (i.e. you let this go)?  Would that bring more or less stress to you?

A word of warning here: You can’t fool your brain. So, if you say you’re letting something go—but, you really don’t—you’ll get immediate feedback. Namely, the level of stress will feel exactly the same as before.

On the other hand, if you truly let something go, you’ll experience an incredible freeing feeling.  That might even encourage you to ponder:  What might I let go of next?

And who knows? Once you’ve released yourself from self-imposed expectations and perceptions, you might now respond to the generic “How are you?” question with a truthful, resounding, “Great!”

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