Stress is something that is prevalent in our society. Our culture today reflects the emphasis that we have put on success. We have been conditioned to always want more. We want more money, more fame, more awards, more friends, more likes on Facebook, more alcohol, more clothes etc. But the often-overlooked aspect of wanting more is that we are not content. This discontentment leads to unhappiness and stress.
But stress isn’t as simple as we might believe. There is a lot going on in stressful situations and our body is reacting to external events, which often feel out of our control. Evolution has played a key part to make sure that we react quickly when there is danger. But the dangers of today are much different than the dangers of our ancestors and require a different response.
First, let’s break down stress into 3 categories. First there is one-time situational stress. This is temporary and usually caused by a key event. It might be triggered when you are performing in front of a group, when you have a key interview for a job, or when you are proposing to a girlfriend. It is usually easy to tie the stress to the situation that is driving that stress.
The second kind of stress is somewhat situational. It is usually longer-term anxiety but it is usually still driven by an event or situation. It may be a repeated stress, such as not getting along with your boss, or it can be stress because your job security is gone and you worry that you will be laid off.
The third kind of stress is more chronic. There can be situations that build up the stress but the biggest difference with this type of stress is that it goes beyond a little anxiety or worry and should be addressed by a professional. This article won’t address this category and will stick to the situational stress that we all feel from time to time.
The first type of stress is very normal. Getting up in front of a group of people or interviewing for a job can be very stressful. Being nervous is completely normal but it also can ruin our ability to perform.
The best way that I have found to address this, is to join a public speaking group such as Toastmasters International. Toastmasters International takes members through various speeches and helps inform them how to overcome the stress and anxiety of public speaking. It helps by having experienced members provide tips and ways to overcome nervousness and provides ample opportunity to practice. It also improves bad habits, such as saying “ah” or “um” too much, which can come off as nervousness or being untruthful.
The key is to address it systematically. Despite the fact that it usually is caused by an event or situation, don’t wait until then to try and improve. Look for ways to improve slowly over time and expose yourself to these types of situations where you can build confidence that you can overcome the anxiety associated with them.
The longer-term stress is something that is a little more complicated. Sometimes the best way to combat this stress is to get an outside perspective. I tend to get more and more narrow in my thinking when I feel increased anxiety and might not be able to see the big picture. In these instances, I need to be able to take a step back and see the full situation.
One thing that was helpful for me was to read books on success, happiness, spirituality, etc. I would read authors such as Jack Canfield and Wayne Dyer. I would read Zig Ziglar and Lou Holtz. The reason that this has helped me so much is that this type of positive thinking and motivation isn’t normally in our lives. We watch movies and TV shows that are entertaining but don’t necessarily teach. We interact with others all day but usually aren’t exposed to this type of improvement mindset. Therefore we have to find a way to bring this positive mindset into our lives and for me I accomplished this by reading.
The best part is that we all have access to this type of material and can choose what categories and authors we prefer. Libraries are a good place to start. There is also a lot of this information online for free.
But I have found that the key isn’t to read a book or two and then expect change. The key is to be able to read consistently and then work to improve our systems and habits by implementing small adjustments over time.
Our systems and habits around situational stress may seem absolute but overtime we can make progress. We have to work on the small things that we have control over and establish new positive habits. By doing this we can better address this situational stress when events come up that add that little extra bit of anxiety.