Life throws a lot of curveballs—sometimes more than just one doozy a day. Most of us put our heads down and keep powering through, hardly noticing the heightened emotions and chaotic thoughts. And we don’t even think about the toll stress is taking on our health.
Here’s an important secret of the “unstressed”: Taking note of stress and what’s causing it is the first step to taming it.
Let’s start with a definition. Professionals define stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”
Negative stressors are easier to notice. Simple things like being late for a doctor’s appointment because of traffic can be stressful. So can bigger things like managing a conflict between family members or dealing with a challenging coworker.
But for many people, stress can be caused by positive events too—arranging a birthday dinner, getting a promotion, making a new friend, having a baby. They are all demanding circumstances that can create stress because they require extra planning, thinking, and expectations.
Knowing that stressful events—positive or negative—are always with us, the most successful stress busters decide how they’ll respond. And to do that, they start by noticing when the stress temps start to rise.
What makes your heart beat faster? What gets your brain going on hyperdrive? How can you better manage your response?
Pay attention to what’s stressful in your life for one whole week. Keep a running list in a notebook, some sticky notes, or the notes app on your phone. Divide your list into two parts—one part for negative stressors and one part for positive stressors.
What patterns do you notice? How many of these events are outside your control? How many stressful events come from decisions or activities that you’ve created for yourself? Were you late to that doctor’s appointment because you left later than you should have? Was the birthday dinner more stressful than it could have been because you added one too many things to the menu?
When you know where your stress comes from, you can reduce its harmful impact on your health and well-being by minimizing exposure and changing your response.