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Why Am I So Stressed All of the Time?

By Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

3 Quick Tips for Achieving Peace of Mind

In this time of great uncertainty, many of us find ourselves in an almost continuous state of stress. Here are some ways to alleviate stress:

  1.       Manage Expectations

“Expectations are premeditated resentments” – Unknown.

How we feel is not only based on what happens to us, but also how these experiences align with our expectations. For example, if Jane gets a negative review at work, her emotional reaction will depend on what she expected the review to be. If Jane expected a subpar review because of frequent tardiness, poor work quality, and tension between her and coworkers, then Jane will experience less disappointment and stress than if she expected a neutral or positive one.

The takeaway here is to keep your expectations reasonable so you are not setting yourself up for disappointment, anger, and stress when your experiences fall short of what you expected them to be, and you are positioning yourself to be positively surprised when your experiences exceed your expectations. If your expectations are too low, however, you may experience amotivation and an unreasonably negative outlook.

  1.       Focus on What You Can Control

Identifying worst case scenarios can allow us to prepare and protect ourselves accordingly. However, when we overanalyze worst case scenarios that are beyond our control, we feel helpless, a feeling which is often subsequently supplanted by anxiety. This is what I call Emotional Replacement (“ER”).

For example, John and Pat plan to have an outdoor wedding on a day when it is forecasted to thunderstorm. They cannot control the weather and as a result, feel helpless. Feeling helpless is undesirable, so they replace that feeling with anxiety because at least with anxiety they feel some sense of control.

The key is to focus on what you can control in a situation. You may start by making a T-Chart with the first column consisting of factors that you cannot control and the second column consisting of factors over which you have control or at least some influence. When you focus on aspects that are outside of your control, you are squandering precious mental and emotional resources, better allocated to variables you can change, including yourself.

  1.       Self-Soothing

Having a strong support network to rely upon during tough times is desirable. Issues arise when your support network becomes your sole source of reassurance and security. First, by relying on external factors you are not practicing ways to relieve stress on your own. Second, by always relying on others for security you may create unhealthy dynamics in these relationships.

Your most powerful tool for self-soothing is your breath. When you inhale, you are taking in Oxygen and slightly activating your stress response. When you exhale you are breathing out Carbon Dioxide and deactivating your stress response. Therefore, exhales should be longer than your inhales and extended and emphasized which will, on balance, deactivate your stress response.  

As stress is partially driven by negative thoughts, being aware of and engaging your 5 senses can redirect your attention and help you self-soothe. Start to become aware of how your vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell are processing stimuli. The more senses you can engage the easier it will be to focus on something other than the negative thoughts driving your stress. For example, watching a movie may engage two of your senses: vision and hearing. Eating a meal engages all 5 of your senses: seeing the food, listening to yourself chew the food, touching the food, tasting the food, and smelling the food. The act of eating may make it easier to redirect your attention to something less negative.

Overall, everyone is different, and you must figure out what works for you. Only by trying new things and stepping outside of your comfort zone can you figure out optimal ways to manage stress. Remember, you are not alone in this! We are here for you when you are ready – please call Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 for more information about in-person and online counseling in Chicago.

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