Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Be Stressed About What You Are Stressed About

Are you good at this?

One of my most detrimental faults is my tendency to get frazzled.

Generally, I think of myself as a good stress manager.  I do my self-care, practice yoga, practice reframing thoughts, focus on my breath, compartmentalize, etc.  But I have a tipping point, and after that point, all hell breaks loose.  Suddenly, instead of just being stressed about the stressor, all the little mundane things that usually don't phase me suddenly turn into little ugly gnomes holding knitting needles, poking me from all sides.  The dirty dishes I can usually ignore aggravate me, the person sauntering at .25 mph through the crosswalk as I drive to work aggravates me, H interrupting my studying to give me a hug aggravates me.

But you know and I know that those little things aren't what it's about.

In the realm of clinical work on eating disorders, one school of thought is that those who develop eating disorders feel they cannot control certain elements in their lives, so they spend their energy controlling food.  Rather than fix the initial problem, this approach compounds it, creating even more work, more stress and more unhappiness, but it's so compelling an approach because it tricks the individual into thinking he or she is in control, even though the initial problem remains.  I bet, if we took some time to examine ourselves, most of us do something similar in some arena of our lives.

What I've noticed in myself is that when I feel I'm under an uncontrollable stress (i.e. school), instead of accepting and working through that stress, I generalize the stress to other areas of my life that do feel controllable.  For instance, if I scream at school, nobody will hear me, but if I snap at H, I create palpable impact.  It is not a helpful impact, it does not make me feel better and it does not lessen my stress, but I maintain this pattern because in the moment, it feels easier and more accessible than putting in the time and energy to deal with what's really stressing me out.  The stress needs an outlet, and every time it will take the path of least resistance unless we direct it elsewhere.

Stress isn't inherently unhealthy; eustress (the good kind) helps us get stuff accomplished.  But my worry is that when we live under a great deal of negative stress, it starts to erode the good parts of our lives, not because this is inherently what stress does, but rather because we don't confine the source of the stress to its proper boundaries; we allow it to flood.  We bring it into the parts of our lives that feed us, and in so doing we poison them, in the process starving ourselves and making it ever harder to manage the inevitable stress we all experience.

So give your stress a box to live in.  Trust that the contents of the box will be there when you need them, but for the most part, you can function just fine without.  And when you're stressed about school, work, or the myriad other wildcards that test us, remember to work even harder to love the people who love you, and don't take it out on the dishes.

1 comment:

  1. i can totally relate--dirty dishes and all! this post is such a good reminder for me to stop being so high strung all the time. it's like i know being stressed out won't help anything, but sometimes I just can't stop it, blech. something to work towards i guess :)