Stress is an inside out kind of thing: it starts with the smallest worry and grows to influence all parts of your life. When I was a kid, my mom would always say that her chest hurt when she was stressed or worried. I remember wondering what it would feel like to have your chest hurt, or what kind of worry would have to come around to cause it. Unfortunately, we all grow up a little too quickly and find out for ourselves what the chest-pain inducing problems are all about, and they usually center around busyness.
From the time I was in high school until my sophomore year of college, I put myself under a severe amount of stress. I would wake up with my heart racing, already feeling behind for the day at 7 a.m. I continued to load on activities and pressure until I finally crashed toward the end of my sophomore year. The burn out looked like sitting on my couch watching Gossip Girl and taking minimal showers for four days straight; let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. I made a lot of life changes from that point on, such as prioritizing my responsibilities, learning to say no, and making time to rest. Good things can’t grow without rest, and I had left very little room for margin in my life.
The problem with stress is that it can’t stay inside. If you are worried about your relationship with a friend or significant other, you can’t avoid the repercussions by trying to keep those fears silent. They will manifest in passive aggressive texts and anxious comments, only to drive the other person further away. If you are worried about the health of your job or business, stress will shift your focus completely to the money. No one can build a healthy team or company culture under stress because your objectives will always be in line with your values. If your value becomes profitability above all else, your coworkers and customers will smell the desperation.
Whatever is going on inside your head, your heart will find a way to seep it into your daily life. If I’ve learned one lesson about stress throughout the course of my high-anxiety personality, it is that the only cure is a shift in perspective. When you spend your life focusing on what is truly important – God, purpose, family, relationships, dreams – the little things fade into the background. Often, we can’t control many of the circumstances we stay up late worrying about, but we do have power over our response.
It sounds pessimistic, but sometimes when I am worried, I think about the things in my life or business that were harder than whatever I am going through now. I don’t do this to send my heart on a parade of broken dreams, but I do it to measure how “serious” the problem at hand really is. Most of the time, it ranks pretty low. If it doesn’t, if you’re dealing with something truly beyond your stress threshold, it might be time to speak up. Find a trusted friend, family member, or therapist who shares your values and let them walk with you through the tough times.
Stress is an inside out problem that can be aided by pouring positive affirmations from the outside in. If you feel like you can’t get off the roller coaster, find a person who knows where the brake is, and let them help you off the ride.