What do you be like when you’re stressed? What does stress make you do?
When I’m stressed, I tend to subconsciously do things that actually hurt myself. Stress drives me to do things that don’t serve me, or things that move myself away from what I really want.
That might sound too dramatic, but what I do are quite small things. For instance, eating junk food while wishing to be healthier, overeating while wanting to be fit to wear clothes I really want to wear, or staying up really late while hoping to be an early bird and be more productive.
Every time I get stressed and compulsively do these self-sabotaging behaviors, I wind up criticizing myself. I start asking myself, “Why did I do these stupid things?” “Why is my willpower so weak?” “How many times should I disappoint myself?”
When you’re stressed, it’s easy to prioritize being free from the stress as soon as possible, and ignore everything else. Especially thinking about the future – what will happen after you do the things you are trying to do to distract yourself from the stress – can be the most difficult thing to do in a stressful situation. The outcome or the effect of your behavior will probably be the last thing on your mind.
That’s why you’re more likely to do what’s contradictory to your goal or what you really want, when you are stressed.
When you’re stressing out, you will probably hear these voices back of your mind, telling you, “It’s not right time to think about your goal. You have to relief your stress first!” “You need to reward yourself. Your deserve it.” But if you keep listening to these voices, you will move yourself farther and farther away from who you really want to be, or what really makes you happy.
Is it impossible to keep pursuing your goal when you feel stress? Is it impossible to be free from your stress while working towards your goal?
I believe it’s possible. I believe that we can cope with stress while working hard for what we want.
When I’m stressed, sometimes I notice that I’m stressed first, but actually in most cases, the urge to do something self-defeating comes first, and then that makes me realize that I’m stressed.
For example, I suddenly feel like I want to eat some snacks, even though I’m not really hungry. I feel like I want to eat something I don’t even really like.
Why do I feel this way? That’s because I’m craving to be free from the stress I’m feeling, and I’m believing strongly that these behaviors will distract me from the stress at least for a while.
However in reality, it’s obvious that these behaviors will not necessarily make me happier. I will end up beating myself up crying, “Why did I eat this?” “Why can’t I discipline myself?” “I’m such a loser.”
Instead of rushing into these tempting behaviors, recognize the stress that you are feeling. Pause and say, “Ah okay, I’m somehow craving this my least favorite candy, only because I’m stressed.”
Then, think about the cause of your stress. Are you bored? Did something make you feel sad? Are you worried about something? Are you mad about something?
Once you find out the cause of your stress, think about the better, constructive ways to reduce the stress.
Let’s say you realized that the cause of your stress is that you are feeling sad because somebody did something you didn’t want them to do. Will cookies reduce your sad feelings? Well, they might make you happy while you are eating, but once you empty the box, the feeling will definitely come back again.
Instead, how about telling the person how you really feel? I know it’s scary, I know cookies are easier, but they might understand. Even if they don’t, you can at least be proud of yourself – because you didn’t rely on cookies, and actually tried to make a difference.
Not limited to telling somebody your true feelings, there are also a lot of constructive ways to relief your stress. Be creative! You don’t need to be a professional artist to be creative. You can try journaling, writing, painting, cooking, taking photos, learning, cleaning, singing, dancing, and so on.
In my case, I write. It doesn’t matter if I can’t write something beautiful when I’m writing just as a stress relief. Writing clears my mind, and sometimes can even give me a hint for my future blog post.
Sometimes you can be stressed about something too complicated or too big that you can’t solve by yourself immediately. In this case, it will be very hard to fundamentally eliminate the cause of your stress in a short term.
However, if you use the stress as a reason to let yourself stay up all night to distract yourself from the problem, you will end up sacrificing your other goals or happiness. If your other goals are having enough sleep to stay healthy, or waking up early to have a productive day, after a temporary distraction from your stress, you will end up feeling even more stressed, because now you have more reasons to criticize yourself, or to feel unhappy.
Rather than self-destructing, you can also choose to be creative to feel better: exercise, listen to your favorite music, call your friend, and so forth. By choosing creative ways to relief your stress, not only you can feel less stressed afterwards, you can also be proud of yourself about your constructive decision. That way you can have at least two things that can make you feel much better.
Of course, as a human being, you might need to indulge yourself from time time. Even if you try not to, you might fail and make counterproductive decisions. That’s okay, because you’re not a robot.
When that happened, the important thing is that you don’t be too hard on yourself. It only shows that you are a human. What you need to do then is to move on as quickly as you can, and focus on what you can do next. Today’s a new day, and all you can do is to make the most of it.
I used to be terrible at dealing with stress, but I gradually learned not to let stress take control of my life. I still fail sometimes, as you may know if you know me well, but at least I’m getting better at it, little by little.
I would like to share a quote with you to conclude this post.
“Our human nature includes both the self that wants immediate gratification, and the self with a higher purpose. […].
It is just as human to feel stressed, scared, and out of control as it is to find the strength to be calm and in charge of our choices. […].
People who have the greatest self-control aren’t waging self-war. They have learned to accept and integrate these competing selves.”Kelly Mcgonigal, “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It” (2011)
This book, “Will Power Instinct” helped me to understand how I should react when I feel stress, and inspired me to learn how to cope with stress while I’m working on my goals. If you liked today’s post, I highly recommend this book! It will lead you to better understandings about stress, willpower, and help you to grow into the even better version of you.