3 Habits You Should Cultivate to Banish Stress
Stress is a huge problem in today’s world. It seems like we’re bombarded from all sides, from scary stories on the news to crazy drivers on the road to the everyday stress and strain of family life. (God bless ‘em—we love ‘em, but kids, grandkids, in-laws, siblings and even spouses can push the stress meter up.) But here’s something most of us don’t recognize and don’t want to admit even if we do: a good part of our day-to-day stress is self-created.
Yes, you read that right. And it may offend some people to hear it, but let’s call a spade a spade. There are a lot of things that are out of our control—things that stress us out which we really can’t do anything to change. But the scary truth is that a big chunk of the stress many of us suffer comes as much from internal factors as from external ones. I say scary because the solution is this: change. And change can be frightening. But changing the way we think about things and react to them can go a very long way toward reducing the stress in our lives.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming the high ground here—I’m as guilty of generating my own stress as anyone else is. Keeping stress in check is an ongoing project for me, and like everyone else I have my good days and my bad days, and the occasional day where I just can’t cope. It’s part of being human. What I am claiming is that recognizing a few stress-boosting behaviors can help you turn stress-boosting into stress busting.
Stop worrying about what other people think of you
My grandmother was a sweet little old lady who never made a move in her life without first asking, “What will the neighbors think?” And while you and I might not take it to that extreme, most of us do have a sort of constant low-level worry going on. There’s a running inner dialogue that asks What will my boss think? What will my spouse think? What will my friends think? Or even What will that person over there (a stranger we’ve never met and will never see again) think?
It’s so ingrained that we might not even notice it most of the time, but it goes on. And it colors our actions, our words, and our emotions. Most of us spend a lot of our time checking our words and actions against “What will so-and-so think?” at the expense of what we really want. So here’s my advice: when you find yourself censoring what you say or do, stop and ask yourself: Am I doing this because I’m worried about what so-and-so will think?
If the answer is “yes,” then ask yourself another question: Does it really matter what so-and-so thinks? Will it affect you in any concrete way? Because there are situations where you should check yourself, of course—you won’t wear your pajamas to work because of what your boss would think, after all. But in most situations, it’s just not that big of a deal. So stop worrying so much about what other people think—because they’re probably just as worried about what you think of them.
Stop trying to please everyone
It’s true that you can’t please all of the people all the time, but we’re inclined to try. It goes hand in hand with worrying about what people think—we want people to like us. We want people to respect us. We want them to think we’re cool, or classy, or whatever trait is most important to us. So we work to keep everyone around us happy, even when doing so makes us unhappy!
But here’s the thing: you just can’t make everybody happy. And there’s something else that you might not realize: it’s not your job. Now I’m going to share one of the most profound pieces of advice I’ve ever received. It’s something that literally changed my life when I started putting it into practice, and it’s changed a lot of other lives for the better too. And it’s very simple:
Remember that YOU are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness.
You’re just not. Not your spouse’s. Not your children’s. Not your parents’, or your friends’, or anyone else’s. Happiness is something that comes from inside, not out, and the only one who can make someone happy is that person their self. It’s that easy.
Once again, you are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. But—you are responsible for your own. And when you stop putting all your energy into trying to make other people happy, you can find out what makes you happy.
Stop feeling guilty
Guilt is one of the most poisonous emotions there is, and carrying it around causes an untold amount of stress. And here’s one of the absolute worst things about guilt: it’s completely pointless. It doesn’t resolve anything. The only purpose it serves is to make us feel bad about ourselves.
Now, a lot of us confuse guilt and remorse. They’re not the same thing. Remorse is something you can act on. You can make amends. You can ask forgiveness. If nothing else you can forgive yourself. Remorse means we realize we’ve done something wrong, we’re sorry, and we want to fix it. And if we can’t fix it, we want to be forgiven—which is also something active.
Guilt is something else. Guilt is passive. It just sits there, giving off poisonous fumes that choke us and cloud our thoughts and emotions. It seldom motivates us to do anything and when it does, it’s usually something that has little to do with the thing we’re feeling guilty about. For instance, if I were feeling guilty because I said something hurtful to my wife, I might be inclined to buy her a present. I’d give her the present and she’d accept it, but I’d continue to feel guilty.
If, on the other hand, I felt remorseful, I’d be less inclined to run out and buy a present and more inclined to sit down and talk. If I was remorseful, I’d say, “I’m so sorry I said that. I know it hurt you, and I’d like your forgiveness.” She would either forgive me or she wouldn’t, but in either case I would know I had done what I could to mend the situation, and I could put down the weight of my remorse.
You can’t do that with guilt.
Guilt is a burden you can’t put down. It’s like a wound that festers and never heals. And too often, what we’re feeling guilty about is something over which we have no control. So stop feeling guilty. If you’ve wronged someone, try to make amends and ask for forgiveness. And if you haven’t—if it’s something out of your control, then lay that heavy weight down and stand up straight.
These three behaviors go hand in hand. They’re intertwined, and changing one helps change the others. And when you do change them—when you stop worrying about the world thinks and making everyone else happy at your own expense, it can transform your life.
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