April is Stress Awareness Month, and you might wonder, “Why do we need THAT?” It’s pretty obvious when we’re stressed out… right?
The reality is we don’t always recognize the variety of situations and circumstances that create stress. And that’s why Stress Awareness Month is a good idea. Because the first step to dealing with stress is knowing what causes it — it’s not the same for everyone, and it might not be as obvious as you think.
Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” It’s easy to recognize adverse situations as stressful. Late to work because of traffic? Yes, we’d say that’s adverse and stressful. Trying to mediate between fighting family members? Definitely adverse, demanding and stressful! Dealing with a challenging coworker every day and getting nowhere near a peaceful resolution? Check. These are all examples of negative stressors (events or circumstances) that create negative stress.
Take a look at the definition of stress again: tension that results from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress is not solely defined by adversity or negative events. It’s also linked to being in a demanding situation. In fact, the following events tend to be fairly demanding, which means they would qualify as positive stressors in anyone’s life:
“Wait,” you might say, “Those are wonderful things! Those things create joy!” We’re not disputing that. But let’s be honest for a second. Sometimes the best things in life also put us in very demanding situations. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact of life. We can’t always control when or how things happen (well, maybe you can control how many people are invited to that birthday party).
What we can control is our personal reaction to stressors, a.k.a. how we handle stress. And the best way to start is by knowing what sets you off. What creates stress in your life—positive or negative—and how can you better manage your response?
Pay attention to what stresses you out over the next week, and make two lists: negative stressors and positive stressors. You might start to see a pattern: how many of those events are outside of your control, versus decisions or activities that you create yourself (running into traffic because you dawdle on the way out the door)?
Knowing WHERE your stress comes from is the first step. From there, you can reduce its harmful impact on your health and well-being by minimizing exposure and changing your response. These videos about managing and coping with stress are a great place to start.