I am not a doctor nor do I play one on television. I do make it a point to constantly observe and pay attention to those around me, however, and based on what I have witnessed, I am confident that the following statement is accurate.
Stress kills. I am not talking about the type of stress that you may think you feel right before a big moment or in the heat of a debate. The kind of stress that will kill you is the long term, over riding stress that does not go away. It won’t kill you right away either. It prefers to work you over slowly and methodically, destroying your positive energy and sucking the joy from your life until you are eventually consumed with and paralyzed by worry, fear, and dread.
I also am firmly convinced that you cannot live life worry free either. Some worry and, therefore, some stress result from living a life that entails a level of personal responsibility, care for others, and defined values and beliefs.
So, if worry is a part of life, you must find a way to effectively manage it and channel it toward something positive because the alternative is simply not an option.
Worrying for the sake of it is not productive. If you are one of those people who purposely worry because you have made yourself believe that you will create a positive outcome by focusing on the worst that could happen, please stop and think about that for a second.
If you find that you are a worrier by nature, take some time and reflect on what the causes of all that worry are. Be as specific as you can and identify as many different roots for that worry as possible. Once you have done that, sort your worries into two categories, the things that you can do something about and those that you cannot.
Study the list that you feel you have some influence and control over and start thinking about the decisions that you need to make and the actions that you need to take to handle the causes of those worries. When you do that, you will take control of a situation that you have otherwise let control you prior to that point.
If you agree that stress is only caused by what you cannot control or do not understand, then you will go a long way toward eliminating that stress by taking action and exercising your powers to reason, decide, and ultimately execute a plan.
By identifying the source of your worry and then acting to eliminate it, you have made your worry count. I call this productive worrying. Trying to stop your mind from wandering to a place of concern when you are a responsible, caring person is a futile task. Thinking of a worry as an indicator that you need to take action is a healthy way to channel your worry toward a better situation and a desired outcome.
If you are worried about how you are going to do on a test, go back over your notes or ask a friend to quiz you on the material. If you are worried about that presentation you have to make tomorrow, practice it one more time and then make it a point to concentrate on something else, whether that be a good book, your favorite show, or the jigsaw puzzle that you have been avoiding.
Now, back to the list of the items that you are worrying about for which you have no control and cannot influence. The easy thing to say is to just forget those things because you cannot do anything about them anyway. I am not going to say that for two reasons; one is that it doesn’t help and two is that there are some situations that fall into this category that are still worth a lot of your thought and concern even if there isn’t much you can do about it.
Concern for the health of a loved one, for example, is a perfectly natural and unavoidable source of worry. Depending on the severity of the situation, it could also be the cause of stress and anxiety. Even in this situation, it helps to focus as best as you can on the things that you can do versus the things that are beyond your control. Many times, the actions that you take, even in the face of what is a difficult or impossible situation, are the actions that will be the most meaningful and helpful.
Providing comfort, sharing thoughts, or spending time with the person you are concerned about are all things that will come a little easier to you if you are focused on what you can do as opposed to being consumed by the worry and fear that multiplies exponentially if you are solely focused on what you cannot do or what is beyond your control.
Recognizing your worries for what they are, categorizing them appropriately, deciding to take action when and where you can are all steps that will ensure that your worries are productive and helpful. If you handle your worries effectively, you will prevent stress from negatively influencing your life and you will live much more enjoyably as a result.
One further comment about stress that highlights this point. Not all stress is bad. I have worked with many people on public speaking. We devote a great deal of time overcoming the barriers that many people create or misinterpret that prevent them from trying their hand at making presentations or speeches. Several people reference their nerves, or the lump in their throat, or the butterflies in their stomach as reasons why they have no willingness to speak or perform in front of others.
These sensations may feel like stress, but they are really just indicators that something big is about to happen. Everyone’s inner self works a little differently, but we are all creatures of habit in one way or another and we all have indicators that tell us something different is going on. If you are open to that explanation, try to embrace it the next time one of your indicators is blinking.
Give the roller coaster a try, stand up when others sit down, go forward instead of turning around and just see what happens. You may find exhilaration and joy where you expected to find fear or embarrassment.
That part is up to you. Just don’t ever allow those empty worries to develop into worthless stress.
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.