Everyone knows that “stressed out” feeling. There a sense of being overwhelmed and pressured, with no reprieve in sight! Many people react by overworking, becoming perfectionistic or shutting down. Unhealthy beliefs float to the surface – “I’m a failure”, “I’m worthless”, “I don’t deserve to succeed”, “I don’t deserve to be loved”.
Did you know that it is often not how much you have to do that determines how stressed you are, but what you tell yourself about it? Are you the sort of person who whips themselves along when under pressure? Saying things like “I have to get this house perfectly clean before the party”, “I should have made more progress on this project by now”, “We can’t be late!” and “Why can’t I ever get dinner on the table at exactly 7 PM?!”. You might even say to yourself “No one else ever struggles like this – what’s wrong with me?”
Is it possible that these thoughts are not exactly helping?
Like most problems, this one also involves not just thinking unhelpful thoughts, but also poor thinking processes that bypass logic and common sense. Everything is taken personally; you believe you can read the minds of others; you believe that you can accurately predict the future and that the most catastrophic scenario is the one most likely to come true. Ask yourself if what you are worrying about is a real, practical concern or just an unlikely hypothetical, a “what if?” Also, try to have more confidence in your coping skills even if something does go wrong. You have coped until now, after all!
If you are not the anxious type, there may be a lot of “should statements” aimed at yourself or others. When you think about it, “shoulds” are at odds with reality. They indicate a lack of acceptance that can keep you stuck, angry or guilty.
So – what works better? Self-compassion. Striving for excellence but being realistic about the many things outside your direct control. Making your new mantra “progress, not perfection”. Allowing yourself and others to be less than perfect. Gentle good humour, patience, and gratitude are also good.
And – you can always lighten your load by delegating and learning to say “No”.
If making these changes sounds challenging, this is the sort of stuff CBT does best – changing thinking and behaviour in tandem to help you have a better life through healthier coping.