What are we all stressing about?
If you’re reading this newsletter, you’re probably not in immediate danger. You’re lucky enough to be looking at this on a phone or computer, which will also order food directly to your home, or give you the answer to almost any question from the comfort of your chair. Maybe you can even turn the lights on without even needing to get up.
As a species, we’ve evolved so much that technology can handle almost any practical everyday problem we throw at it (although, granted, there is some element of user error). We can connect with others at the touch of a button and set reminders so that we don’t need to remember to do anything.
So why are we all still feeling so stressed?
The truth is that as we’ve evolved, stress has evolved with us. The brand new monsters of societal pressure to succeed, body image and the 40-hour working week have come in to haunt us. We might have solved some of the problems, but the underlying feelings of fear and sadness haven’t moved on at the same time. Our bodies are wired to respond to pressure to keep us alive.
But stress is just part of life…isn’t it?
“So sorry I haven’t got back to you, I’ve just been so busy…” – sound familiar? We’re all so used to rushing from one thing to another that we don’t stop to think about the effect it’s having on us until we can’t cope anymore. In many ways, being stressed is seen as a badge of honour, a mark of someone who can manage to be everywhere and be everything to everyone all at once. “I don’t know how they do it, they’re amazing!” you exclaim as you secretly feel completely inferior and frantically try and schedule in learning a new language in between work, cooking everything from scratch, keeping up to date with current affairs and meeting up with friends at least once a month.
This might come as a surprise, but we don’t have to be stressed all the time. Yes, there are moments where it’s unavoidable – life is unpredictable, after all, and many of us have caring responsibilities that take up a lot of time. Sometimes, it’s stressful for a good reason in the long run, like moving house. But cramming our schedules full and continuously competing with each other? We don’t have to do that.
The power of doing less
I’ve got a challenge for you. Sit for a moment and think about what would happen if you did less in your life, not more. Imagine carefully choosing social engagements rather than saying yes to everything. Clearly communicating your boundaries at work so that you have a reasonable workload, and offering the same gift to others. Choosing to just enjoy a hobby, rather than having to become the best person in the UK at it.
All too often, we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed because we’ve let things get out of hand without realising it. No one who is stressed is happy – so why do we keep putting extra pressure on ourselves?
I clearly remember the first time I was asked (by a therapist) when in my day/week/month I did nothing.
“Never!” I proudly and in a slightly affronted way proclaimed. What a waste of time that would be, I thought. Doing nothing felt lazy, unproductive & negative.
Now that I realise that taking time to mentally rest can be the most useful part of being sustainably productive, I've turned it into a regular and positive choice by playing with the word 'nothing'...
I now chose to do 'no things' regularly. No screens, no podcasts, no books...just me, nature (weather permitting) and my subconscious. Amazing things happen in the space it creates...
Taking back control
International Stress Awareness Week 2023 asks us to think about solutions. So what can we do in our own lives?
Note: it’s up to you how you do this exercise – I find it can be helpful to talk it through, or write it down. Getting the thoughts out of your head can be a great way to get perspective on them.
Firstly, you need to identify what is causing you stress. Is it work, or your home life, or both?
Secondly, consider what can be done. Are there some issues that you can’t actually control, like a family illness or an upcoming deadline? If so, put those in one category.
Then, list out the things that are causing you stress that you have some element of control over, such as having no free time, lack of time to exercise or always taking on too much work. This is category two.
When it comes to category one, think about what small elements of that larger situation you can have control over. For example, if you have a stressful deadline, can you slacken off on some of
your other commitments? If you have an ill family member, can you ask for support from others? Or can you carve out ten minutes of time for you to do something you enjoy each day?
Next, category two. What are your priorities? What would your ideal week look like? What steps can you take to move yourself towards that vision? Write those down, and start to put them into action.
I’m not saying this is easy, or that change happens overnight. But far from being selfish, taking time to actively look at reducing your stress and boosting your rest ethic is crucial – for you, for your loved ones, and for your future. So let's make time for it.
(Got feedback about this newsletter, or simply want to share your thoughts? Let me know by replying to this email. )
Want to spread the word?
Book me for a talk at your company. I use my own story and experiences to open a discussion, lift the stigma and encourage staff to use the resources available to them. You never know who might need it.
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Join me for one-to-one performance coaching. Let’s work together to guide you towards feeling calm, finding clarity, gaining confidence and feeling in control.
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What I’ve been sharing this month...
From Burnout to Balance. Listen to my appearance on Russel Lolacher’s Relationships at Work podcast where I talk about my experience of recovering from burnout.
What Happens When You’re Not Ok At Work. Another podcast conversation, this time with Priscilla McKinney on her Ponderings from the Perch series. Hear some of the lessons I learnt from my burnout tale.
World Mental Health Day. This World Mental Health Day, I made three commitments: get moving, take proper breaks, and show empathy by giving someone space to talk. Here’s why.
Understanding Menopause. You might wonder what I’m doing talking about something that has historically been seen as a ‘women’s issue’ – it’s because I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to understand and support people going through menopause, regardless of your gender. Why not take the time to educate yourself and understand what the people around you might be going through this month? Join me on this journey.
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in: James Pickles