Nobody likes stress.
Everybody has it. Some people have a lot, some have a little. Most people have it occasionally, while others have it all the time.
It’s a common denominator among people who attend time management classes. By the time they decide to attend, it’s probably because their stress has gotten out of hand.
Sometimes it’s because of the sheer amount of work we have to do. Other times, it’s pressure from other people. It happens when we have a big project due, we’ve procrastinated on a major deadline, or traffic makes us late for a job interview.
In today’s world, no one is immune. We check one task off our list, and three more slide it to take its place.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to eliminate all of our stress?
We might feel better for a while, but we wouldn’t accomplish anything, either.
Stress is like the string on a guitar. It has to have a certain amount of tension to produce the right sound. If there’s no stress and the string is hanging limp, it won’t produce any sound. If it’s too tight, it breaks.
The key is to find the exact amount of stress to make the string play in tune.
Many professional athletes and concert artists recognize the value of stress. As one NBA start said, “It’s OK to have butterflies in your stomach; you just have to teach them to fly in formation.”
That’s why you hear about stress management seminars, but you never hear about stress elimination seminars. Stress itself isn’t the problem; it’s what we do about it. It’s like setting a spark to gasoline so it explodes. If it happens in your car’s engine, it’s a good thing. If it happens in your living room, it’s a bad thing.
So, what should we do when we have stress? Research has shown that there are two primary strategies for handling stress:
- Change the situation. This is called “direct action” strategies. We observe and analyze what’s really happening (facts, not feelings). Then we determine if we can do something to stop whatever it is. We get a flat tire; we change it. Someone is upset at us; we approach them to talk through the issue. We don’t have enough money to last until payday; we don’t go to McDonalds.
- Change our attitude. This is called a “palliative” strategy. If you can’t change the situation, you accept and adapt.
I can’t change the traffic in Southern California. I could try, but it will only lead to frustration and more stress. Instead, my only real option is to accept the traffic and choose a different way of handling it:
- I could leave earlier to beat traffic.
- I could move closer to my work.
- I could change jobs.
- I could use commute time to listen to books on tape.
It sounds easy, but it takes practice and conscious choices. But it’s worth the effort, because we’ll be free from the tyranny of the stressful.
Without wind, a sailboat is stuck in the water. We need wind to sail, and we need stress to perform to capacity. It’s a matter of what we do with that stress when it comes.
We can’t control the wind, but we can learn how to set the sail.