Stress Management: don’t sweat the small stuff

NOTE: it might be worth reading this article about the negative effects of stress on the body before reviewing this post:

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? It can be about anything but make it something that impacted your life.

Mine was from my mum. Simply, “don’t worry about things you can’t change.”

Sounds fairly obvious right? But I’ve found, as a society, we seem to have extreme difficulty in putting this principle into practice.

I was once on a train that was delayed by two hours; a tree had fallen on the line. Opposite me was a woman. As the news broke that we would be delayed she became quite distressed: constantly looking at her phone, texting, calling, stopping the ticket operators to find out what was happening, getting up and down to find more information, etc

When it became clear that we were going to be very delayed, she was in tears.

(Looking back, I hate to think that there was a huge emergency that was causing her such distress, e.g. a family member dying. Just to clarify, this post does not refer to any situations of that kind of magnitude)

As I watched her on the train all I could think about was my mums advice. There was nothing anyone on the train could do to make it start moving again, so why get worked up about it?

Take a look at the following situations. Think back to how you may have reacted to them at some point:

  1. Stuck in a traffic jam
  2. In a long queue at a store
  3. Waiting for a response from a client
  4. Waiting for a friend to show up

I’m going to guess at least a few times you got stressed – yelling at the other drivers or pointedly sighing at the person in front. Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there.

But we shouldn’t and that’s the point of this post. 

Training yourself to accept that sometimes things don’t go to plan is difficult. This is because we automatically focus on the consequences that will follow: if you’re stuck in traffic, you will be late to the theatre and late arrivals aren’t admitted. If you’re in a queue at the store, you’re parking ticket might be about to expire, etc.

Consequences suck but they exist with everything we do, even our planned decisions (I will go into detail on how to minimise consequences in a later post)

Things happen – don’t let external events control you!

I believe unforeseen situations stress us out so much because we can’t control them or the consequences that stem from them. And we do not like not being in control.

The irony is, our ability to deal with, and subsequently manage these situations is hindered the more stressed we get.

When you’re worked up, you aren’t in control. Why do you think people are given a time out at work when they’re clearly stressed and overworked? It’s because they’re not functioning at their best any moreThink about it. Your body is being flooded with adrenaline and cortisol and that is never healthy – your immune system, your gut and your brain function are all being affected. And, in some cases, for no good reason. 

Now you have no control over the situation or yourself.

Keep calm and take a deep breath

As difficult as it may seem, train yourself to accept that occasionally things, like the train breaking down, happen. It’s life, we can’t govern everything, as much as we’d like to. But what you can manage is how you choose to respond to things.

Reprogramming how you react is a conscious choice, one that you will have to make every single day.

You have to train yourself to accept that, yes, you will miss the play and, yes you will lose money on it but it doesn’t matter. In the grand scheme of things it is NOT WORTH STRESSING ABOUT.

As a final note, here is a situation that happened to me recently…

For New Year I was supposed to fly to visit my friend but my alarm didn’t go off and I missed my flight. Combining flights and train tickets I lost roughly £150. Was I disappointed I missed my flight? Of course. Did I get worked up about it? No.

I know the effect stress has on my body and at the end of the day it causes me to be in pain. In terms of my missed flight, there was literally nothing I could do about it so instead of berating myself or cursing my phone to hell for not waking me up, I took a deep breath, texted my friend and snuggled back under my duvet. After all, it was freezing outside and at least I had a warm bed and a good book to enjoy instead.

Remember, the inconveniences and unforeseen circumstances will always be right around the corner. That will never change. What can change is how you deal with them.


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