April is Stress Awareness Month. You might think I would be a big fan of promoting that since stress and anxiety are my specialty in my counseling practice. But instead, I’m going to say something radical…
There is no such thing as stress.
When you think about it: What exactly is stress? Even the experts don’t agree. It is such a generic term that it could mean just about anything.
Therefore, “stress” means just about nothing.
Stress is even difficult for scientists to define because it is a highly subjective phenomenon that differs for everyone. Things that are stressful for some people are not stressful for others.
We also have different physical, mental, and emotional responses to stress. (See my list of 50 Signs of Stress and Anxiety that May Surprise You)
Stress is Fear
When you say “I’m so stressed”, you are giving away your own power to be relaxed and happy and in control of your life. It’s like being a victim of other people or circumstances…you’re giving those external things the power to “make you” so stressed.
What if you could equate the word stress with the word fear?
Then you could take your power back by figuring out what is causing fear. And then you can learn how to change your fear reaction. You do not have to simply live with the fear or the “stress.”
Some common fears that we disguise as “stress”:
• Fear of not getting it all done (with an assumption that you should)
• Fear of not being a good enough person, mom, employee, partner, child, etc.
• Fear of what others will think of you
• Fear that everyone else is faster, smarter, or better
• Fear of not being perfect, or doing things perfectly
• Fear of being late, or missing out
• Fear of not being in control
• Fear of being criticized
• Fear of being alone
• Fear of sitting still and being with yourself and your thoughts
• Fear of displeasing others
• Fear of not being liked
• Fear of people being mad at you
• Fear of uncertainty
• Fear of “something bad” happening (what if this or what if that…)
Stress is a fear reaction to life, and life’s constant changes and demands.
Stress is fear that comes up whenever there is a gap between what you need or want to do, and what you feel you’re able to do.
Fear Starts with a Thought – And Thoughts Can Be Changed
If you let stress be so generic and feel like you have no control over it, you can end up using it as an excuse to not take responsibility for your feelings, actions, reactions, and choices. It’s too easy to blame stress on someone or something else.
You’ll feel a lot more happy and relaxed when you take responsibility for the stress-producing thoughts, feelings and reactions. To do this, you need to identify the fear thoughts underneath your stress, and then learn to change those thoughts. That’s what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is all about.
Maybe you’re stressed after a “crazy busy” weekend of running around taking the kids to all their activities.
• Maybe you think you have no other choice.
• Maybe you think you have to do it all or else you won’t be a good mom.
• Maybe you think it would be a negative thing to ask for help.
• Maybe you worry about what the other parents would think if you skipped some of the activities.
• Maybe you’re afraid of looking like a bad parent.
• Maybe you think you have to do it because your husband expects you to be able to do it all.
• Maybe you think a good mom always puts her kids first no matter what.
Those are examples of fear thoughts that lead to feeling stressed. Your thoughts may be different. Everyone has their own stress-producing fear thoughts.
The Simple Rule
1. Good feelings come from good thoughts.
2. Stressful feelings come from stressful/fearful thoughts.
Thoughts always come first and lead to feelings. This is great news because it means you can stop feeling out of control. You can take charge of how you feel by learning to change your thoughts. You don’t have to give away your power to whatever is “stressing you out.”