One method of dealing with stress is learning how to recognize and talk back to that internal critic you have in your head. Write down all the self-critical thoughts going through your mind. Write down why these thoughts are incorrect. Then, practice talking back to them, explaining why they are wrong. For example, if you are going to be late for a meeting, write down the negative thoughts you have about yourself. The declarations of character flaws that being late represent: laziness, thoughtlessness, and apathy. Realize that just because you were late for a meeting, you are not a bad individual. Being late and being bad are separate things that don’t necessarily correlate.
Perfectionism is another example of how people create stress out of thin air. A lot of people are very hard on themselves, so how do you overcome perfectionism? Accepting that you are not perfect or even above average can make your stress level much more manageable. The way to defeat perfectionism is to accept that it is an illusion. Realize that you are flawed. Realize that everyone is flawed. Perfectionism is often applied globally to a person’s entire existence. You cannot possibly be above average, or even average at every facet of your life. Being a perfect housekeeper probably won’t help you achieve fulfillment, so just get the dishes done and move on to resting and recharging after working all day. What are you afraid will happen if you are not perfect? Will my family abandon me if I’m not perfect? Will my boss really fire me if I’m not perfect? Dig into the fear reaction and figure out if the reasons you feel you need to be perfect have any rational basis.
The other way you can deal with perfectionism is to see things as a process—see the big picture. Instead of trying to get each detail exactly right, see it as a process. Don’t worry about making mistakes, that is how you learn. Failure is the most powerful teacher in the world. Most people are forgiving. They understand and accept that all of us make mistakes.
Perfectionism paralyses you. Many people claim to be writers, but never write a word because they believe that they must write the perfect novel. They fear what critics will say about their book, or they fear that no publisher will buy it. Those things are beyond your control. Completing the novel will give you a great sense of accomplishment, whether anyone else likes it or not. Most people are writers in their mind, but their idea of perfection keeps them from ever putting pen to paper and discovering what they are truly capable of. Accept that the words won’t be perfect, but they will be yours and they will be real.
Some people are dealing with continual stress because they have something they need to say, but are afraid to say it. They need to be authentic. Why won’t they say it? Again, the fear underlying the silence must be examined. This will resolve the inaction or at least identify the cause. Then, they must deal with how rational or irrational this fear is. If it is a real fear, with real consequences, they must weigh the benefits of speaking versus the stress of silence. Most often, being truthful and open far outweighs the benefit of silence.
Other ways to relieve stress include exercising or doing something you love. Remember things that made you happy when you were younger and re-discover the joy of doing those things. Pick one of the things you love to do and start doing that again. Play cards, watch football, garden, cook, or watch a movie that made you laugh.
There may be something that you have to face head on. Avoiding a problem is sometimes not an option, so eliminate the problem by attacking it. Ask your friends and colleagues how they would deal with the problem. Make a “to do list” of problems you have and figure out which ones need to be resolved and how you can go about solving them. If it is not a solvable problem, then putting in down on paper and accepting its existence might also reduce your stress since you can mark it off your “to do list” as an unsolvable issue.
Avoiding anger. Who are you angry with and what are you angry about? Is it something within your control? Sometimes you are taking things personally that are not personal. Most of the time, people act in their own self-interest. They don’t even give a thought to how their actions affect you. You have misunderstood the meaning of their actions and internalized an imaginary enemy, when in fact, no such adversary exists. Often when we feel really hopeless about things, what is really happening is we feel extremely angry. By confronting the source of your anger, you will often discover that it was just a misunderstanding and you can let go of your resentment. If there is a real issue, then talking to the person may also help both of you come to a better understanding of where the other one is coming from. Mutual understanding is a powerful ally when looking for peace of mind.
Avoiding sadness. Sadness can be a normal feeling. This feeling can enhance your humanity. Try not to avoid feeling sad about things that are normal to feel sad about. Running away from your natural feelings will often create more stress. Examples of things it is normal to feel sad about include the loss of a pet, being broken up with, being rejected for a job, or even little things that you might not expect. Surprisingly, if you talk about your sadness and accept it, it will often resolve much more quickly.
While you can identify and recognize some of these issues on your own, many of these issues can be examined and confronted more easily with the help of a professional therapist.
If you’re dealing with an issue like this, I would be happy to help. Please reach out by calling my office at 310-314-6933 or sending me a private email.