Today is National Stress Awareness Day!
I awoke to posts on my Facebook feed asking what steps we take to manage stress.
Stress has become so much a part of our lives that managing stress is considered to be very important skill to learn.
But whilst I’ve seen many posts about managing stress, I’ve not seen any about Living Stress-Free (admittedly I haven’t done any extensive research – I’m just going by what has shown up in my Facebook news feed today).
Stress impacts our health, our well-being and causes illnesses.
But for me stress is NOT something we should have to learn to manage.
For me stress is an indicator that something is off!
When we have a broken leg we don’t learn what to do to manage the symptoms. We don’t go on courses that teach us how to manage life with a broken leg.
That would be absurd! But it appears that that is exactly what we do with stress!
In fact in certain circumstances stress is treated as a badge of honour.
We admire people who hold down stressful jobs.
We believe people who overcome stressful and challenging situations are amazing.
If we’re “stressed out” it usually means we’re busy doing important work.
Several years ago I was often “stressed out”.
It would cause me to yell at my kids, snap at my husband and make me feel tense, edgy and no fun at all to be around.
I generally didn’t show this side of me to the outside world but my family knew to avoid me – especially first thing in the morning.
Feeling stressed wasn’t something I experienced from time to time – there was usually some situation every day which would cause me to feel stressed.
And something had to shift.
So, a couple of years ago I started looking at the dynamic of “being stressed”.
What was it that was causing me to feel stressed so often?
A classic “stressful situation” was the school run – getting myself and two kids out of the door, with everything they needed, in time for school.
Mornings in all honesty were a battlefield.
The kids got angsty with me for constantly asking whether they were nearly ready; there was usually a last minute dash back into the house for a forgotten item; and I would leave the house like a wound-up spring ready to explode at any moment.
The kids would bicker on the way to school – and I would often need to take a walk to calm myself down before I could begin work.
Not a great start to the day – yet sadly a common one for many parents.
And whilst it might be common – it’s a situation that isn’t ok.
If stress is a regular part of the daily school run it’s hardly surprising that stress has become a national endemic.
It would be easy to blame the kids – if they were better organised we would leave on time.
But it was me getting stressed – and I needed to take total responsibility for the way I felt.
I therefore saw my children as playing the exact role they were supposed to play for me to transform this area of my life. The bickering in the car I hated so much – it was all part of their job as Melina’s kids!
Looking at the situation in this way – I discovered that what actually caused me stress was time. I felt constantly rushed because I didn’t allow enough time to get both myself and the kids ready and out of the house – which meant we were slightly late leaving on a regular basis.
And then began the internal berating of myself for being late – again!
So I started allowing an extra 10 minutes to get ready and out of the door.
Er no …
It took several months as I created a new way of being during the school run (and being gentle on myself throughout the process was crucial)!
Now the school run is stress free most days and I love it.
I saw a similar stressful experience play out every time I cooked.
I would get so stressed in the kitchen – my husband would stay out of the way so I wouldn’t bite his head off!
When I applied the same curiosity at what was causing the stress in this situation I discovered that it wasn’t the cooking that “stressed me out”.
It was timing!
Getting everything cooked so it was all ready at the same time.
I noticed how I chose meals where timing was everything – where there were lots of things that needed to be cooked separately many of them at the last minute.
Or I’d give myself 40 minutes to cook a meal which would take over an hour!
I was creating situations which would inevitably result in stress.
The solution: allowing more time to prepare food.
The result: no more stress.
Is my life “stress-free”?
But I no longer experience stress.
Stress is not something we should ever accept as normal.
Stress is a sign that something is off.
And by exploring what is at the heart of a stressful situation, we can address the root-cause and transform our whole experience of stress.