Do you ever feel like the universe is jumping up and down, waving neon flags along with big flashing arrows, as though it’s trying to tell you something but struggling to get your attention? It may only be one week into the Exercise Challenge but it’s already throwing up all kinds of things I wasn’t expecting.
Firstly, it seems when it’s just me and a target then I’m able to motivate myself to get the job done. But as soon as I have to leave the house and mix with other people, I get stuck. I can’t explain it – knowing I have to be with others makes me anxious which creates inertia and results in … nothing. I end up doing nothing. Which then stresses me. Cue the vicious circle.
Knowledge is Power
I’m actually really pleased about this. Because, for possibly the first time ever, I’ve identified one of the things holding me back from exercise and it’s not just laziness! I’m a firm believer in the idea that once you know the cause of a problem, you’re half way to being able to fix it. Knowing that interacting with others in an environment that already makes me feel uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily change things immediately but at least now I have the option to address it should I choose to.
But this got me thinking. I know I get stressed and anxious easily and the whole Stressless Wonder Challenge is about managing these feelings so I can minimise (not eradicate) them. And I also know the big things that stress me out which are pretty much the same things as everyone else I guess (think money, job, relationships, health, etc).
But these are umbrella terms – they represent a multitude of small things that add up to one big ball of stress. In which case, perhaps part of managing stress is being able to identify the small, often-taken-for-granted, everyday stress factors. The ones that are so ubiquitous we barely notice them anymore and just accept that they’re part of life.
38 Stressful Things
So, with a little help from Mr Annette (who is well on his way to knowing me better than I know myself) here are 38 things that stress me out. They’re not in any priority order – simply the order I thought of them. Some of them are rather silly, some are quite possibly downright odd (I’m looking at you, number 8). But, these are all things that genuinely cause me stress and/or anxiety at some level.
- Living in London
- Working in London
- Commuting in London
- Having an unfriendly black cat
- Negative quips about being vegetarian
- Managers not understanding the word ‘management’
- People believing exactly what the news tells them without question
- Crowds/groups of people
- Visiting the monster-in-law
- The assumption that being related to someone means you have to accept them
- Taking the car to the garage
- Anything involving the vet
- Meeting a personal trainer for a consultation
- Being weighed at the GPs
- Making phone calls
- Answering phone calls
- Very hot, sunny days
- 24/7 media
- Social events of any nature
- Eating with braces
- Being accused of selfishness when choosing not to conform ‘out of duty’
- My skin
- Finding pet-friendly landlords
- Not being able to make lists
- Charity adverts on TV
- Being near an ashtray
- Not being able to go to bed when I choose
- Entering a restaurant for the first time, not knowing where the toilets are
- Walking in icy/snowy conditions
- Unplanned free time
- Sharing a bed with other humans (cats are fine, obvs)
- Driving on narrow roads/country lanes
But what does it all mean?
Hmm, reading through that list it’s a wonder I can tie my own shoelaces (I can). But there are a few themes in there – clearly, London and I are not meant to be together. And I’m working on it – the plan is to move this time next year: yay! Being prevented from carrying out my routine definitely sends me off-course. I’m a creature of habit which is arguably not a good thing as routine can undermine resilience but I’m aware of this and choose it all the same.
I asked Mr Annette to sum up what he believed to be my main struggle in life and his pretty-much-instant response was, “… your top one struggle in life is in having to constantly pretend to be someone else because others will always force you into being someone you’re not.”
And when all is said and done, isn’t that really where much of our stress/anxiety/worry comes from? Whether we care to admit it or not, much of what we do is entirely down to what is expected of us. That expectation may come from our partner, parents, friends, colleagues or just society in general but it’s always there. And that’s ok. If you know an expectation exists, you can choose to manage it in the same way that if you know the cause of a problem you can start working on the solution.
Stress vs Serenity
Living to comply with others’ standards of who we should be is exhausting. It’s stressful. But when you start making choices that are based on what’s right for you, it is easier. It means you can say no to socialising and the stress isn’t there. It means going to bed when you like and the stress melts away. It means exercising alone because there’s no need to worry about others.
The judgement for living this way is often labelled as selfish. But I’m starting to believe that the line between selfish and self-care isn’t a hard line in the sand. It’s a line that widens and narrows and is wavy and straight and is blurry, even on the clearest of days. I often get it wrong. But it’s not through lack of trying.
I am not a person of faith but I have often found comfort in the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
And isn’t that as good an approach as any for managing stress? (Except spreadsheets. There’s no antidote for the stress of spreadsheets.)