Photo: RWS Singapore
We’re so guilty of this too. We worry about things that we don’t need to stress about. We do it even though we know self-imposed stress is not helpful – it’s harmful.
And unless it’s the good kind of stress that you can harness to get adrenaline pumping through your veins and feel the pressure to succeed, stress is bad. That kind of stress makes us worry non-stop, and we end up wasting our time, disrupting our lives, and not being able to do the things we should be capable of.
And here’s the real scary thing. Sometimes we don’t even realise we’re putting ourselves under stress. It might be so natural to us, that we’ve never really thought about it. Because if we’ve lived all our lives relentlessly worrying about things in the back of our minds, we accept it as part and parcel of life, not seeing it as a problem.
If your stress levels are very severe, you may want to seek professional help. However, if you’re looking for friendly pointers that can help you in your day-to-day life, you’ve come to the right place.
So read on for the warning signs that help identify self-imposed stress, and some tips that help mitigate it.
1. You let superficial negative events affect your workflow
Maybe you got into a fight with your partner over text during work. Maybe you were looking forward to your morning coffee, but the barista messed up your order. Or maybe you accidentally broke a plate in the morning when making breakfast.
And then it snowballed from there. The accident with the broken dish got you late for your meeting, putting you in a frantic and bad state of mind, the quarrel with your partner got you fuming, stressed and not able to concentrate at work. Or maybe the slip up at the coffee shop put you in a foul mood, so your day started crappy and stayed that way.
The debilitating thing about this kind of stress is that it stops us from thinking straight. And the worst part is, many of us get trapped in that stress because we think we’re entitled to feel that stress.
“I broke a bowl and I’m late for my meeting. Of course I’m stressed!”
Sometimes we try to shift the blame.
“That barista was so rude and didn’t even give me the right order. Of course I’m annoyed.”
“My boyfriend had no right to pick a fight when I’m at work. What the hell was he thinking? Now I can’t do my work properly.”
But should negative events like these affect your work?
Really, think about it. The truth is, a cup of coffee, a badly timed argument, or an accidental slip of your hand, should not have the power to ruin your day at work. And even if those events cause other bad things to happen, should you really add to the stress by feeling bitter or negative?
Trust us, you’re stronger than that. You’ve got the ability to overcome this kind of stress, and it begins with you making a conscious decision not to let small things dictate how you feel or how productive you are.
2. You’re fixating on the past
Do you catch yourself daydreaming about the past sometimes? Like, you’re working, but your mind keeps drifting back to old mistakes you made. Or maybe you get flashbacks – you’re chilling when a cringey memory from years ago hits you out of nowhere, completely uncalled for.
It is normal to have thoughts of the past every now and then, whether it’s about something dumb you said in a conversation a few days ago, or whether it’s a huge blunder you made in front of your boss years ago. The thing is, it gets unhealthy when (i) we dwell in the past longer than is needed, and (ii) we use those fleeting thoughts to beat ourselves up. Doing that leads to a lot of stress and unhappiness, and it’s really like digging a pit of despair.
In theory, the solution is to focus on the present. And in practice, the solution is not so straightforward. Because there are usually deeper reasons for dwelling in the past, depending on your personal history and so the solutions can differ.
That being said, one universal tactic that helps us is the concept of mindfulness. By committing to be mindful of our thoughts, we are more likely to catch ourselves as our minds slip into the past. That makes it easier to snap out of it and focus on the present.
It might seem like an impossible or never-ending fight at first. There are so many thoughts to discipline and they pour in like rain! We think that it’s better to be a little mindful and catch yourself when you can, rather than to be distressed helplessly by the flood of thoughts.
Counter-tactic: Be mindful to catch yourself and focus on the present.