Stress is basically what happens when your perceived responsibilities outweigh your perceived ability to cope. As long as you're taking care of business, you don’t feel overly stressed. But as soon as that changes, you’re on our way to a shorter lifespan, a bigger waistline, and generally a miserable existence.
While it's easy to understand that you'll be stressed when, say, your paycheck won't hit before you have to pay your cable bill (and you NEED the Food Network), sometimes stress comes from less recognizable places. Here are eight surprising reasons you’re stressed out, and what you can do about it:
Your habit of saying ‘yes’ to just about everything
Are you filled with anxiety every time you see Greenpeace canvasser in your path? Have you said yes to dates with people you’re positive there’s no future with, but going on the date then ghosting is less anxiety-provoking than shutting someone down? Have you looked after your friend’s cats even though you hate cats?
If you have trouble setting boundaries and saying no, chances are you’re overstretched, overwhelmed, and filled with either anxiety over not letting people down, or guilt over not getting a task done.
How to fix it: Tons of people struggle with setting boundaries, especially because we’re generally taught to never let someone down or pass up an opportunity. Still, consider this: When you say “No” to a person or opportunity that you feel conflicted over, you’re actually saying yes to an even better opportunity -- even if that “better opportunity” for you is binge-watching Making a Murderer.
Before social media, ignorance was bliss. Sure, people hated missing out on a chance for fun even back in the Dark Ages, but they weren’t inundated with snaps and grams over the ski weekend they couldn’t make.
How to fix it: Rather than unrealistically expecting you should have/know every experience, accept that you can have thousands of incredible experiences, but not every experience is possible. So instead of stressing about trying to read the whole thing, pay attention to the experiences you do have, so you can actually enjoy them.
Your crazy-high expectations for yourself
Perfectionism makes for a super-stressful existence. If you go around expecting you'll never fuck up, you’re going to be anxious all the time. Because there's the potential to screw up everywhere!
From the cleanliness of your house to the number on the scale to your mood to how many emails you answer a day to keeping up with friends and family, you expect superhuman performance from yourself. This is… unrealistic. And stressful.
How to fix it: When you can treat yourself like more of a human being and give yourself permission to make mistakes, things become a lot less stressful. Be a little more compassionate toward yourself, and set the same expectations you’d set for a friend. Is it really dire if the laundry waits another day? If you’re not a ball of joy ALL THE TIME? If it’s not life-altering, let the shower get a little grimy this week, cancel a couple nonessential plans, and quit judging yourself for feeling wounded by that girl who ghosted you recently.
All the terrible things that are 100% out of your hands
Yes, it’s a good thing to be aware of what’s going on in the world. Yes, there's a refugee crisis. Yes, global warming is a thing. Yes, your boyfriend could get in an accident on his snowy drive from Michigan. But much of this is out of your control, and may be keeping you up at night unnecessarily.
How to fix it: Acknowledge what’s in your control and what’s out of your control. Asking for an extension on a project or taking a mental health day when you’re feeling burnt out? In your control. A loved one’s mental illness or a response to the email you just sent? Out of your control.
Assuming everyone is paying tons of attention to you
Most people have an exaggerated sense of self-importance. You think our boss can’t stop thinking about the email list you accidentally CC’ed instead of BCC’ed (that one's a personal experience). You think our colleague is telling all her friends about the spinach you didn’t know you had in our teeth. You think everyone at the grocery store notices you’ve broken out. You think people give a shit.
How to fix it: Guess what? No one cares (as much as you think they do, anyway). Most people are too busy worrying about themselves. The stories in your head? Other people are focused on their own versions of that chatter. Next time you’re stressing about what people think, repeat after me: no one actually cares, and for those who do, it’s likely just a manifestation of their own neuroses.
A relationship (or relationships) that might not be in the best place
I can’t tell you how many times I’m 20 minutes into a session with a client who’s been feeling really low lately and doesn’t know why, and they finally reveal they’re in conflict with a super important person in their life. I don’t blame them for dismissing the relationship as contributing to their stress; I’ve done the same thing. Still, disconnection is an extraordinarily stressful feeling. Humans are evolutionarily programmed to connect and trust, and the flip side of betrayal and disconnection evoke all sorts of difficult feelings -- namely anxiety, loneliness, sadness, guilt, and anger.
How to fix it: Communicate. If you decide this is a relationship you want to keep, apologize or voice your hurt feelings or do whatever you need to do to get a sense of resolution over the whole thing. If you aren’t ready, or aren’t sure if you want to talk to the person, consult your therapist or a friend about how to move forward.
A major (but positive!) life change
It's easy to schedule life under the assumption that everything goes as planned. No one plans for delayed flights (and missed connections), basement floods, construction on the way to work, or power outages. Most people also don’t typically plan for breakups, tragedy, loss, and illness. When traffic and life happen, we get seriously stressed.
So it might not be a surprise that you’re stressed because you just got laid off or broke up with your girlfriend, but did you know positive change can cause stress as well? Things like starting a new job, moving in with your partner, buying or renting a new home, getting married, and retiring are just a few examples. Positive transitions still require adjustment, so if you’re feeling stressed and exhausted alongside a positive shift, this is why.
How to fix it: Acknowledge that periods of adjustment -- even ones that might be viewed as positive -- require extra energy. Be mindful about how much you take on, as you’re unlikely to be functioning in tip-top form.
The shit you’re suppressing in hope it’ll disappear
Ignore it long enough, and it’ll go away, right? While that might (hopefully!) work when it comes to the Kardashians, it doesn’t work that way with stress and other feelings. You’re actually causing yourself more stress by choosing avoidance.
When you don’t give yourself time to process, rest, and rejuvenate, you’re en route to a bad, bad place. The cycle of stress is as follows: Alarm->resistance->exhaustion. Resist long enough, and you’ll be attacking police with an umbrella and shaving your head.
How to fix it: Do the world and yourself a favor and lean into whatever’s going on. A therapist will likely be your most effective resource in this case, but exercise, meditation, yoga, listening to music, writing, art, reading, and connecting with friends will also help. And, of course, make sure you’re getting enough sleep (7 to 8 hours a night), eating real food (and supplementing if necessary), laying off the espresso, and permitting yourself to experience emotions other than happiness.
Make these changes, and you might just remember what “calm” feels like.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Megan Bruneau, M.A. RCC is a psychotherapist and wellness coach who used to be a real stress-case. Read more from her at www.oneshrinksperspective.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.