Solving for Stress

August 25, 2021

If we’re hungry, the obvious solution is to eat something.

If we’re restless, it pays to get up and walk around.

Is stress different?

Along the way, it seems as though we got confused about the best way to deal with the stress that comes from work and from the projects we work on.

“Push through the stress and on the other side, everything will be okay.”

Simply get all the details right, get an A, get into a famous college, make the sale, polish the logo, do the pitch and then… reassurance will follow.

The reassurance of success or even survival. The reassurance of external acclaim or simply relief.

Now that everything’s okay, no need to be stressed!

Until the next time. Which might be tomorrow.

Reassurance is futile, because there’s never enough of it.

Some folks manage to get their projects done without this sort of stress. They’re not using the search for reassurance as fuel.

The solution to stress isn’t reassurance. It’s accurately understanding the world as it is, and making choices about what we do and how we do it. But far more than that, we relieve stress by making choices about the stories we tell ourselves.

What’s the difference between giving a speech to your dog and giving one on the TED stage? It’s the same speech. The difference is in the story we tell ourselves about the stakes, the opportunity and what might happen next. If that story gets debilitating enough, it can paralyze us.

If you’re on a backpacking trip, there’s little doubt that ten more minutes of tired to get to the next campsite is a smart investment. A little more tired translates into a lot more rest.

But if you’re at work, there’s not a lot of evidence that more stress is the best way to have less stress.

Look for the story instead.

[PS It’s not easy to change your story. For some people, and in some situations, it’s almost impossible. But that doesn’t mean that more stress in search of reassurance is going to make your search for a useful story any easier. If others in your situation have figured out a story that works for them, that’s a good sign that you might find one too. If no one has, changing your situation (if you can) might be the best way forward. But we need to get unhooked from the cycle of reassurance.]