Help! I’m Stressing Me Out!
Do you ever feel that way? Sometimes it feels like nothing comes easy. You have to scratch and claw to accomplish anything and as soon as you turn your head it all turns back to crap. Stress makes it feel like your head is in a vice grip with some demented gnome ever so slowly turning the handle and increasing the pressure. When you are stressed out the clouds seem to hang lower and it’s very hard to see how things are going to turn out positively.
I found myself there two weeks ago. I had gotten used to a new level of stress in my new job. It seemed par for the course. When I looked at the other people in the area I saw the same kind of stress looking back at me from every angle. It was like carrying 20 pound weights in both pockets and made everything a little more irritating and a little more difficult. Then, towards the middle of November it was like BAM! Emeril came in and kicked it up a notch. The guy from Spinal Tap was right; this one really did go all the way to 11.
There was no single culprit, just a combination of long hours, unrealistic expectations, looming deadlines and abrupt changes to the status quo. I was struggling. I could barely have a conversation that didn’t devolve into an emotionally driven diatribe. The last Friday that I was struggling with this I admitted to my friends that I was having daydreams of ripping cubicles apart with my bare hands and punching filing cabinets as I walked by them. I knew I was in bad shape when I couldn’t stop myself from venting to my brand new boss on that Friday afternoon. I’m usually proud of my emotional self-control, but not that day. After that I knew I had to pull myself together and do it fast.
I’m blessed with some good friends and an amazing wife. I had lunch with my friend Chris on that Thursday or Friday and he helped me refocus and pointed me back to my bible and my priorities. My wife also challenged me to pray and reminded me how blessed I was in so many different ways. With their deeply appreciated support I was able to refocus and get back on track. For those of you who have been following along with each article you’ll probably notice how my work took on a more spiritual aspect from that point forward. It’s amazing what some good prayer time will do for you.
This ordeal opened my eyes to a couple of things that I’d like to share.
First, I’ve come to the belief that of stress is self-inflicted in the vast majority of cases. I’ve had that thought in the back of my mind for a while. You may question this conclusion but I’m confident that you’ll begin to see it the same way if you analyze the situations that stress you out.
At its root, stress appears to be our emotional reaction to the rational and irrational expectations that we develop from a specific situation or series of events. Let me give you a not so fictional example. Recently I had a customer who was very angry and frustrated because we could not meet her expectations after we said that we could. I’m not personally responsible for the work. But learning that we could not meet the customer’s needs and communicating that fact was extremely stressful to me.
Let’s peel back a little further. Personally I didn’t fail; in fact, I had no dog in the fight other than being the person who gets to deliver the bad news. This means I wasn’t upset with myself. Yet there I was, stressed out about it. The only thing that I could really be stressed out about is the thought that the customer would develop a negative feeling towards me as a result of this situation.
Think about it for a second. The stress in this situation is irrational. The customer knows that I’m not the one doing the work. In fact, I can detail out all of the extra things that I did to try and make sure that the work would be successful. It wasn’t even really the customer’s frustration that stressed me out. It was my expectation of her reaction. I irrationally felt like I would take the blame, that I would look bad to someone whose good opinion was important which I was worried would negatively impact my reputation and my future job prospects.
Do you see how it works? My mind made a leap from a customer being frustrated with a team I represent all the way to putting my job and future promotional prospects at risk for something that I went above and beyond to help with. It’s not rational, but our minds do it to us. I’m not going to take the time to look it up right now, but I’m betting there is a scientific explanation for the amazing overreactions that we all establish to stress ourselves out with. In the end, we don’t get stressed out because the boss is disappointed with us; we’re stressed because we imagine how it’s going to impact our reviews, our promotional prospects and our future employment status.
Interestingly, I think this explains why some people naturally seem to handle stress much better than others. People with a wonderfully accurate sense of perspective will rarely get stressed out. They understand that everybody fails now and again. They know that their boss isn’t holding every false step against them and they don’t worry about whether or not wearing mismatched socks one day is going to get them displaced in the future. On the other hand, people who can’t control their imagination or lack a firm base of experience to give them that perspective can be overly stressed by simple situations that don’t really warrant a second thought.
My overriding point here is that the boss isn’t stressing me out. My customer isn’t stressing me out. It’s my unrealistic thoughts about their feelings and plans that stresses me out. The same thing applies to you. Unless you are working in an environment where you know for a fact that people get fired if they do X and then you intentionally do X then you’re probably stressing yourself out when you don’t have to.
In a quick aside to anyone reading this who manages a team, tell people what you think and how you feel! Don’t leave them to speculate and imagine. If your employee goofs up, take the time to figure out what you want to teach them, then deliver the appropriate feedback and let them know that you aren’t going to hold it against them. Give them the words that they need to hear to decrease their stress. They are simple, easy words to you. But they can make a world of difference to those who work for you.
The second thing that I had to learn again was to rely on God. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It’s so easy to forget this and to try and put the world on your shoulders. That being said, I feel sheepish about forgetting it (again). Those of you who have read my original work on Facebook already know that I knew clearly that God was acting in my life and leading me to my current job. It’s very difficult, challenging, and stressful, but it’s where he wanted me for his purpose. I knew that was true and I still do.
I think the problem is that we expect it to be easy. Just because God has put you somewhere for his purpose doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. In fact, it doesn’t even mean you’re going to be successful. Maybe you’re meant to learn a skill and then apply it somewhere else. Maybe you’re supposed to fail miserably and still offer glory to God to set an example for those around you who will need it in the coming days. I don’t know what God’s plan is. All I know is that I’ve dedicated myself to it.
As a result, stress is pointless. It really is. If you know that you’re working hard, that you’re doing your best then that is all you can do. I’ve reminded myself that I can fail miserably and still be a huge success as long as I’ve accomplished the hidden goal that he’s put in front of me.
The last two weeks since that weekend have been much better. Not only am I out of the funk that made me dream about tearing things up, but I also feel like those 20 pound weights have been removed from my pockets. I’m enjoying my job again and as a result, I’m able to be much more successful. Funny how that works isn’t it.