The Majority of Stressors Aren’t Real

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When I was young, Pokemon was the cool thing to do. It seemed like every kid in school had a Gameboy loaded up with every version of Pokemon imaginable.

The craze seemed to hit me sometime around October that year. I was instantly obsessed. I had a Gameboy, but I didn’t have the one game that really mattered to me at that point. As so often happens with kids when something new comes along, everything else is no longer cool. I remember borrowing my friend’s game and taking it home every night. Although he let me play it as much as I wanted (since he had the red AND the blue version), I wasn’t allowed to save over his game meaning I had to start at the beginning every single time.

Imagine just how distraught I was each time I had to turn the game off! All of my hard work right down the tube.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the details, but you can imagine the story went:

Kid gets toy he fantasized about. Kid plays with toy for two weeks. New toy comes along. Old toy gets tossed away. Kid wants new toy.

But, before that moment when I ripped open the package on Christmas morning, that game was all I could think about. I would literally lay awake at night dreaming about catching them all (that’s a reference to the Pokemon slogan for those that are unaware).

There I was – seven years old and stressed out.

When Was The Last Time You Were Stressed?

Literally about to pull your hair out?

If you’re like most Americans, it was probably sooner rather than later. In fact, it was probably within the last few days. Stress seems like a normal part of our everyday life. Bills have to be paid. The boss has to be happy. Dogs need exercise. Kids have soccer practice. And, on top of all that, you need to get four to five workouts in a week to help stave off heart disease and obesity.

Holy hell.

No wonder why we count the hours until the bubble bath and glass bottle of wine at night.

At the end of the day, it’s important to realize the definition of stress. I’ll steal the definition from Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers:

If you are a normal mammal, a stressor is a challenge to homeostatic balance – a real physical challenge in the world – and the stress-response is the adaptation your body mobilizes to re-establish homeostasis.

Notice the word “real”.

Why Are We So Stressed?

It’s probably not because you don’t have food. It’s likely not because you sleep in the rain rather than the warmth of shelter at night. You probably have some clothes to cover your back – although they might not be Lululemon.

So why are we so stressed?

Because there are things in your life that you just can’t control. You don’t think you have the resources necessary to “re-establish homeostasis”.

You can’t always control how your boss will react to the project you turned in. You can’t control (nor could you predict) your tire going flat and having to spend $200 for a new one. You certainly can’t control getting in a wreck, or your kids getting sent to detention, or the crappy weather that ruined the outdoor event you had planned.

But, truth be told, those aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. They probably aren’t going to change your life. They’re just more like inconveniences that seem really terrible at the time. Compound these inconveniences with the fact that we love to imagine the worst possible scenario, and you have a perfect storm like this:

You won’t be able to make your credit card payment and thus your credit will get pinged which will lead to a terrible financing on your first house leaving you in debt and unable to pay for your kids to go to college thereby ruining their future.

Now, we all know that most credit card companies offer some sort of forgiveness as long as you aren’t a repeat offender. We all also know that chances are, one missed payment won’t kill your credit. Likewise, we would all testify that funding is only one of many factors that influence a kid’s ability to go to college. Nevertheless, we imagine the worst.

Being that many stressors leaving you awake at night are actually fake in the sense that they aren’t life or death, there are certain steps or measures you can take to control the situation and therefore calm yourself down.

Here’s your game plan for managing stress:

1. Is it necessary?

Are you placing fake importance on something that really isn’t that important after all?

Sit down and think to yourself “Is this really as important as I’m making it seem?”.

Many times, we place fake importance on items that really don’t matter.

Most things work themselves out in the end.

2. Gain Control.

Since most stressful events are due to lack of control, a great plan of action to calm yourself down is to gain control.

In the majority of scenarios, “control” is synonymous with “plan”. If you have a plan in place with actionable steps to accomplish the task or assignment at hand, life will be much easier.

3. Focus.

Similar to the above step of gaining control, focus on the smaller tasks at hand that lead up to the bigger task.

Scared you don’t have enough money to make a payment of some sort? Stop focusing on the payment. Instead, create actionable steps to help accomplish your task and put your effort and focus towards accomplishing those.

Spend time focusing on the solution rather than the problem.

Most stress – the everyday kind that leaves us wanting to pull our hair out and keeps us up at night – probably isn’t warranted. Just like I did as a kid with a Pokemon game that soon lost its luster, we put fake importance into items that really aren’t that important in the long run. 

Stop placing importance in items that don’t deserve it and focus your effort on things that really matter.

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