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The Way You Think About Stress May Be Stressing You Out! 

By Jamie Jackson Spannhake

Life can be stressful. Sometimes, more than the circumstances we find ourselves in, it is our thoughts about those circumstances that cause a lot of our stress. As pastor and educator Charles Swindoll said, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” In other words, for a situation or circumstance to trigger stress, you must perceive that situation as stressful. It may be your thoughts about the situation that are producing your stress.

Start Thinking Differently About Stress

Instead of focusing on the circumstance causing your stress, focus on your perception of the circumstance. When you change your perception of a situation, you can change the way you feel about it. You can move past feeling threatened by stress and instead view it as a challenge — and an opportunity. Here are five ways.

  1. Accept reality. Things are not always the way they “should” be. Regardless of how they should be, they are the way they are. As Reinhold Niebuhr famously stated, we need the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Figure out what you can change, then learn how to accept everything else. You’ll be happier, less frustrated, and have more time and energy to work on the things you can actually change.
  2. Stop worrying about “what if.” Things go wrong sometimes, but worrying about all the ways things can go wrong even before it happens won’t stop bad things from happening. Instead, plan, prepare and deal with it. But don’t worry about it. It’s a waste of time and energy. If you cannot control an outcome or circumstance, then no amount of worry will change it. On the other hand, if you can control an outcome or circumstance, then you simply need to do the work to change things.
  3. Believe you can handle whatever happens. Think back to all the challenges you have faced. Most likely, there are very few, if any, that you weren’t able to handle. Even if you didn’t deal with some of them perfectly, and even if you would handle some of them differently in the future, you dealt with the challenges. Much of our anxiety comes from thinking that if the worst happens, we won’t know what to do. But experience shows otherwise. Believe that you will be able to handle whatever comes your way.
  4. Realize the stress is not permanent. Sometimes when you are living and working through a particularly stressful time, it can seem that the stress will be permanent. Fortunately, very few things in life are permanent — including the stressful things. Remembering “this too shall pass” may be all that is needed to help alleviate the stress.
  5. Stop replaying upsetting events. When stress is caused by a sense of injustice, we often replay the events over and over again in our heads, imagining all the things we could have said or done differently. But this just perpetuates the negative emotions caused by the injustice. It prevents you from moving forward, or focusing on the present and potential solutions. Stop giving space in your head to the person or circumstance that was unfair and instead look forward to resolving challenges.

We can’t always control circumstances but we can choose how we respond to them. And we can choose to not be stressed out by our stress!

A version of this post first appeared at AttorneyatWork.com, and is reprinted here with permission.


Jamie Jackson Spannhake is a practicing lawyer and certified coach helping busy lawyers create more integrated and happy lives with time for career, family, and personal endeavors. Her work is based on the principles in her book, The Lawyer, the Lion, & the Laundry: Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos, available at JamieSpannhake.com. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Facebook @LawyerLionLaundry.