March 12, 2014

Identify Sources of Stress In Your Life

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Dealing With Low Grade Anxieties

No matter how organized, cool-headed, laid-back, or put together you might be, we all deal with some degree of stress and anxiety in our everyday lives. Like a lot of things, stress and anxiety are on a spectrum. While high grade anxieties might be more identifiable, low grade anxiety might be so deep in the back of your mind you don’t notice it buzzing away and distracting you, making it harder for you to be your best self. It’s not always easy, but you can learn to pinpoint the causes of low grade stress in your life, decluttering your mind in the process.

Recognizing Your Stress

One day you might be high on the anxiety spectrum– having a full fledged freakout about an impending business merger, a potential layoff, anticipating medical test results, or some other huge life event. Other days you might be feeling a midgrade amount of stress, worrying how you will pay a large bill at the mechanic’s or wondering what your boss wanted to meet about later. While none of these anxieties feel good, they can at least be pinpointed as the cause and dealt with directly.

What can be a lot harder to identify are the sources of your low-grade anxiety.

Low grade anxiety can come from a lot of different places. It might be a noisy office environment that makes it hard to concentrate. It might be a lot of clutter in your living room, even if you’ve been too rushed to consciously notice it’s gotten to be a mess. You might be trying to get through your work day trying not to think about a tough conversation you’re going to have with your spouse when you get home.

It might even be about something fun– like a first date at the end of the week, or trying to wait until a big promotion can be officially announced. Some of the best things in life are an emotional rollercoaster, like buying a house or planning a wedding or expecting a child. Whether it’s positive or negative, low grade stress can build up in the back of your mind and affect how happy and productive you feel.

Identifying the Source

Paying a little bit of attention to what has you breathing a sigh of relief, whether literal or metaphorical, is the first step to reducing your low grade anxiety. Do you feel yourself unclench when your paycheck hits your account? Do you find it hard to settle in to your work day with a pile of fresh emails in your inbox?

Try to catch yourself in the act of feeling more relaxed upon completing a task. You just might trace that calm, settled feeling back to the root of your anxiety. The tricky thing about low grade stress is that its source might be such a common part of your routine or daily background you don’t even know it’s there. Once you recognize the sources however, it’s almost impossible to unsee them.

A colleague recently explained that she always books her business travel for the morning, because she realized that going straight from work to a flight fills her with a feeling of dread can’t quite explain, but doesn’t feel necessary to experience. Once she realized that air travel wasn’t the root of her anxiety, but instead the timing of the travel, she was able to take a huge chunk of stress out of her work life. After years of being a chronic mess maker, I noticed one day that I felt much looser in the neck and shoulders when I walked into my freshly-cleaned kitchen. Now I know it’s worth it to spend a few minutes on a chore I don’t like just to avoid constantly thinking in the back of my mind about the mess.

Taking Action

The best way to catch your own versions of these moments is simply writing it down and keeping track of your stress filled moments and when you feel most relaxed and satisfied. When you are feeling anxious, stop what you are doing and be still. Spend a few minutes just breathing and letting yourself be present. Ask yourself why you are anxious. Does something in particular come to mind? Is there a clue like feeling tired, or realizing you’d just been thinking about, say, a big meeting or a bill coming up? Write down whatever comes to mind and the date and where you were. Do the same when you notice yourself feeling soothed and relaxed. Was it after checking something big off your to-do list? Was it after making time to have coffee with a dear friend? Did you make the bed? Write down whatever it was you did just before you caught yourself feeling good.

Later you can go back over this record of stress and relaxation and you might notice certain themes presenting themselves. You might notice something that ties them all together, like anxiety about job performance or business travel or making time to prepare a good dinner. By actively cultivating that self-awareness, you can take concrete steps toward reducing your stress and increasing your happiness. All it takes is a little attention, a pen, and a piece of paper.

Photo Credit: andronicusmax via Compfight cc


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