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.


The difference between supressing and genuinely letting it go

This post is about holding onto a grudge when you feel someone has done you wrong.

I think everyone has had a moment where they wanted to tell someone to just let. it. go. We all know what it means: forget about it, get over it, move on. Stop bugging me about it.

Of course we’re all upset for a time when someone wrongs us but there is a time where the anger and self indulgent self pity needs to stop.

I once knew a guy who was still wrapped up in his bitter hurt over his girlfriend who broke up with him 5 years before in high school. It is painful to lose your first love but there comes a time where dude, you really need to get over it.

Not for anyone else’s sake but for your own.

Quite often people will convince themselves they are over something/one when in reality all they have done is suppress the feelings.

The difference between suppressing a grievance and genuinely letting it go can be explained in two stages (let’s stay on the theme of breaking up with someone):

1) When you THINK you’re over a person. When the person who hurt you is not around you genuinely convince yourself your fine. But you start actively avoiding going to any situation where you might run into them. You don’t want to have to deal with the feelings and emotions that will resurface if you see them because you haven’t really moved on. You’re just avoiding any kind of confrontation so you can convince yourself you’re done.

2) When you’re truly over them. AKA the random epiphany moment. I love this moment. It can happen anywhere – one friend of mine experienced this whilst waiting at a bus stop – and it appears unexpectedly, in quiet acceptance. A literal ‘huh’ moment, where you suddenly realise you genuinely don’t care anymore. Time actually worked and at some unknown point you let that person go.

Of course, this situation isn’t solely for break-ups. Being bullied at school, childhood sibling rivalry, that person who screwed you over at work, any situation where you felt wronged can plant this seed of resentment.

A couple years ago I was at a point where I was cocooned in resentment from grievances years old. Friends and family told me many times I should get over it but I didn’t want to. I reveled in my anger, my open disgust of those who had mistreated me. I believed that if I let it go, I was somehow losing. As if by holding people accountable in my head I was punishing them. Let me tell you, I was not.

It wasn’t until I nearly crashed my car during a rant that I realised how stupid holding onto my grievance was. It was a penny drop moment. Why was I still pent up about this? Was I helping myself in any way? No. Not even slightly. It was making me hateful and resentful and annoying the people around me.

Whatever sweet delight there is in holding on to your hate, it isn’t worth the eventual effect it will have on your personality and relationships or your health.

When you hold onto these past hurts, you’re giving them the opportunity to reappear at any point and cause you stress. A stress which your body can really do without and is entirely unnecessary.

So let those people and those hurts go. You’re only hurting yourself and suppressing who you really are.

Why we should all listen to Elsa

Yes, this is a post with a Frozen theme. But if you bear with me, there is a serious point, I promise.

When Frozen first came out I did not jump on the bandwagon with everyone else. I missed seeing it at the cinema and all the hurrah passed me by. Predictably, by the time I did see it, I was a little disappointed. It had been so overhyped and, to be honest, I thought Tangled was better.

The second viewing was better. I enjoyed it but it was still just a movie. Lately, however, I’ve been mulling over the whole ‘let it go’ obsession. After pushing past the catchy tune and lyrics I really listened to every word. I hadn’t given this song enough credit. I’d rebelled against ‘Let It Go’ a little because of all the hype but now I see it as a very important piece of advice. It’s actually a little frustrating to think that kids will just be loving the fun song without understanding the depth of the philosophy.

An inability to let things go is dangerous. This may sound like an exaggeration but, as I learn more about Fibromyalgia, the serious impact stress – in this case caused by obsessing over things – has had in creating and perpetuating my condition is being revealed. So yes, it is dangerous. By continually obsessing, succumbing to anxiety and clinging to old grievances I slipped into a state of perpetual stress which ravaged my body. So much so I broke the damn thing.

Who knows, maybe I’d still be healthy if I’d just been able to let things go.

So next time you break into a Frozen sing-a-long maybe just take a second to really think about what Elsa is saying. Is there anything you’re clinging onto that you should really just let go of? You’re body may be glad that you did.