When You Stress About Feeling Stressed

By Susan David

Whether it comes from our job, family, or friendships, stress is an unavoidable fact of life. 

One of the most frustrating features of stress is its snowball-like tendency to build on its own momentum—we get stressed out about being stressed! 

Judging ourselves for our emotions doesn’t help us to deal with them. In fact, it’s likely to exacerbate our challenging feelings. 

These sorts of thoughts about thoughts or emotions about emotions—what psychologists call Type 2 thoughts or emotions—have the potential to cause more harm than the thing we were worried about in the first place (Type 1 thoughts or emotions).

As you go about your day, it can be helpful to remember the following.

Everyone deals with things differently. Instead of beating yourself up over your feelings of stress, offer yourself compassion. Give yourself some credit: You’re doing the best you can with the tools at hand.

Stress is not 100% bad. In fact, it can be a signal that we’re growing, gaining fresh insights, and learning new things about ourselves and our world. Stress can result from working at the edge of our abilities. Like a vigorous workout, this can cause strain and discomfort, but it ultimately makes us stronger and healthier.

It’s essential to recognize when the discomfort you’re experiencing is aligned with your values.

If it is, then the associated stress is growth-oriented and life-giving. And although it may not be the most comfortable experience, you can move forward with the knowledge that the stress has value to you. Perhaps you’re raising a child and helping them to learn new skills, or maybe you’re acquiring new skills yourself. In either case, the stress you’re feeling is moving you in the direction of the person you want to be.

Trust me. I’ve been there—often. The preparation for my TED Talk about Emotional Agility, for example, was a stressful experience in so many ways. The journey involved digging deep into my personal history and my father’s death, evoking a time when I was at my most vulnerable. 

Added to this was the pressure of multiple deadlines, and the knowledge that I had one shot at getting my 16-minute talk right. But I also knew, fully, that this stress came from a good, values-aligned place.

It was a result of my desire to share the message of emotional agility in a way that connected with people deeply and authentically. Keeping my values in the front of my mind was essential to getting the job done.

I believe that all of us are big enough to accommodate all of our emotions and to learn from them, and I encourage you to approach this week with compassion towards yourself, your loved ones, and your community.

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