The other day, I was feeling stressed. I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, because I was thinking about all the things I had to get done. The main focus of my stress was work and money. I had an upcoming grant deadline looming, and I was worried I wasn’t going to get it done in time. We were also in the process of renovating our house and moving, and there were a lot of expenses going out.
The Key is the Interpretation
It’s interesting, we all experience stressful events in our lives. It’s part of what it means to be human. But research has found that it isn’t so much the event itself that causes us to feel stress and discomfort. Instead, it’s our interpretation of the event that causes us to feel stressed out.
This makes sense if you think about it. Let’s say I had the same grant deadline, but I was 100% sure I had the capability to get it done on time and do a great job. I probably wouldn’t feel stressed. Or, let’s say I had the same renovation and moving costs, but I had an extra $20,000 in my bank account. I probably would feel just fine, because I knew I had enough money to pay my bills.
So, there’s a two-part process we go through when we encounter a stressful event. First, we evaluate the event itself. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we take stock in our capability to successfully navigate the event. The problems start to happen when we perceive that we don’t have the resources or capacity to successfully navigate the stressful event.
Stress as an Opportunity
One thing I’ve been trying to do lately is to view stress as an opportunity to rise to the occasion and improve. In other words, when I’m feeling stressed, it’s a signal that I don’t think I have the capability to handle something in my life. In a way, the stress is an opportunity for me to grow. Maybe I need to develop a skill, or get more help or assistance. Maybe I really can do it—I just need to experience success to provide me with the evidence.
For example, if I’m feeling stressed about an upcoming grant deadline, maybe this is an opportunity to get better at writing grants and working under pressure. If I’m feeling stressed about money and upcoming expenses, maybe this is an opportunity to understand my finances in a deeper way and take control of my budget. And so on.
What is one thing you are feeling stressed about in your life right now? How might this be an opportunity to grow? What would you need to develop in yourself so that you could have confidence that you could tackle this stressful event successfully? What is one step you could take today to develop this skill or competence?