I‘ll readily admit it: We’ve had a tough year. A semi-complicated pregnancy, health issues for our middle son, and a sudden, unplanned international move has made the past seven months — well, a doozy.
My emotions have been all over the place, but even in the midst of the highs and the lows, the near-constant feeling I’ve had for awhile is stress.
Which is why it hit me like an anvil to the head when I read this a week ago:
“Stress is a choice. Do you buy that? Some people have a hard time with the idea. …Yes, bad things happen: The economy sours, our business struggles, the stock market tumbles, jobs are lost, people around us don’t follow through, deadlines are missed, projects fail, good people leave. Life is full of these. But still, stress is a choice because whatever the ‘trigger event,’ we always choose our own response. We choose to react angrily. We choose to stuff our emotions and keep quiet. We choose to worry. …Stress is a choice.”
-John G. Miller, QBQ! The Question Behind the Question
So in essence, Miller is saying that I’m choosing to be stressed. And he’s right.
Granted, there are many circumstances where stress is a logical reaction, from the serious to the trivial. I can feel my blood pressure rise when the baby is crying and shows no signs of stopping. During a layover, when we’re racing to the departure gate with four suitcases, a stroller, and a toddler who insists on walking, sure — who wouldn’t feel a bit stressed? If a gun was pointed to my head, I guarantee you my stress level would rise just a wee bit.
But it’s still my choice. Stress isn’t happening to me, it’s a reaction to a situation I’m allowing.
It’s funny, because I tell my daughter this all the time about her anger. When she and her brother are fighting over a toy, she’ll often yell, “He’s making me so angry!” I’ll gently remind her that no, he’s not making her angry. She’s choosing to be angry because of something he’s doing.
How is stress any different, really?
Photo by Jeff Turner
For me, I’ve taken this lesson to heart lately, and have been better able to fight my temptation to feel overly stressed. Stress might still be a logical reaction to a situation, but it’s usually not helpful. Or at least, it’s not usually necessary to feel quite so stressed.
Do you feel stressed when your kids are yelling? Are you inclined to stress when you’re running late to pick them up from dance practice? When your in-laws said something rather maddening, do you feel your blood pressure rise?
It helps to take a deep breath and remember that you don’t have to choose stress. You can choose level-headedness. You can choose to be calm. Stress doesn’t make the situation any better, worse, or different. It’s simply a reaction, one you can change.
We parents face a lot of daily pressure. Stress is typical. But we don’t have to be stressed in difficult situations. We can choose to be calm.
What tempts you to feel stressed?