Why You Are Stressed

Managing Stress

Stress is something we all endure. It hovers over us like a specter, stealing joy and making us worthless. But where does it come from? Why does it ebb and flow? In working with clients – both students and adults alike – I’ve identified two major factors which influence our stress level.

  1. Time we have to accomplish a task
  2. Competence we feel in performing a task.

Let’s look at the matrix below consider four possible combinations of these two elements, beginning with the least stressful and moving to the most. A “suggested action” for minimizing stress is provided for each scenario

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 11.32.08 AM

This is the most relaxed of all situations, when we have plenty of time to accomplish a task which we know exactly how to do. Examples might include simple homework not due for a week, routine errands for items which aren’t desperately needed, or reading through trade publications. These are tasks that we know we can easily accomplish and feel no real pressure to tackle. The risk in this scenario is procrastination, as we often delay working on items for which there is no pressing deadline or accountability.

Suggested action: Implement a deadline so you can complete this task with ease.

Stress for this scenario is moderate. Jobs that fit here include anything which must be completed by a pending deadline, but which we have a high comfort level accomplishing- tasks we have tackled many times before and know exactly how to do.  Examples may be completing routine forms, picking up children from school, or homework for a class we do well in. There may be little time, but if we just get “in the zone,” we know we can knock it out.

Suggested action: “Just do it!” Grab your favorite beverage or put on your favorite music and set your mind on bringing your “A” game until you are finished.

This is another moderately stressful scenario. In this case, we have plenty of time, but we aren’t sure how to proceed. Classic examples here would be long term projects in school, new assignments at work, or new parenting challenges.  Again, this is a situation at high risk for procrastination, as we tend to put off tasks that are uncomfortable.

Suggested action – Ask for help! Whenever we aren’t sure how to proceed, it is smart to ask around… a teacher, a parent, a colleague or a friend can often give us ideas on how to take a first step. Taking even one small step forward will often lead us to a logical next step, and eventually to completion. Furthermore, moving forward – even if it seems ever so slightly – is a huge stress reliever.

This scenario is stress central. The clock is ticking, something is due (or past due), and we have no idea how to get it done. Frequently, we end up here because we have procrastinated (“I have plenty of time…”) and now we are under the gun. Or perhaps we were dealt an unexpected life situation (illness, death, accident) which stole time out of our schedule. And of course, there is the common assignment given on Friday, due on Monday morning.

Suggested action – Get help and get going. If you are hopelessly under water, you may need to seek an extension or reschedule. Perhaps you need to hire help, or swap a favor with someone who has the expertise you need. Avoid making excuses as they are not typically well received. Instead, be realistic, be humble, and make a schedule for getting it done (hour by hour, if necessary.) Unfortunately, the results of this situation may not be ideal. Rather than berate yourself, take concrete steps to minimize your chances of ending up here again.

Identifying the sources of stress in your life – especially those that repeatedly appear – can set you on a course for a more peaceful future.

What do you find most helpful in relieving stress?

43 thoughts on “Why You Are Stressed”

  1. so love this…often we stress ourselves out for nothing at all…I know I often need to just sit and ask myself if it really is worth getting this sick and nervous over? I think I am going to print this out for hubby…he doesn’t get it yet, LOL

    1. Letting go of the stress isn’t easy to do! But you are so right – much of what we worry of we don’t even remember. Hope you husband enjoys the read:)

  2. I am definitely overstressed. My problem is there are too many things on my to-do list and I don’t even bother with the unimportant ones but the high priority ones are more than I can handle some days with my schedule. I just keep telling myself to keep marching.

  3. This is awesome! I generally don’t have work stress, but this week I have two photo shoots, which is almost too many when you have two kids and a blogging love. (addiction, really). I started getting sick yesterday and that never happens. Last night I took a step back and watched Arrested Development and got some sleep. I’m feeling better today. I think it’s more of a High Time, High Competence situation..but I was thinking it was a High Time, Low Competence situation because it’s my first wedding.

    Taking a step back, I’m pretty sure I can do it. I just got myself scared yesterday. I’ll take your advice and ask for help where needed.

    1. Self-care is so important, Tamara. The world will just eat us up, won’t it? CONGRATULATIONS on your first wedding.. you will be terrific. They are lucky to have you. Feel well!

    1. Moms are definitely “under the gun,” and financial pressure only makes things harder. Its important to give yourself credit for the many things you DO accomplish. Hang in there – thanks for reading!

    1. It can be hard, Teressa. Somehow we think that means we are failure… but of course, it means we have wisdom and know our limits. Thanks for reading!

  4. Your blog post was very informative. I attempt to keep a well balanced life with as little stress as possible. Stress triggers Bipolar episodes and that isn’t good for me. Followed you from SITS. Have a blessed day!

    1. So true, Vicki! Stress really takes a toll on everyone, and especially when you have a complicated situation. I commend your efforts to keep it under control. Wishing you a blessed day back:) Thanks for reading!

  5. This is so unbelievable true! Unfortunately where I’m at right now is either high or moderate, depending on the hour,day, week. 🙂 Stopping by from SITS and soooo glad I did. Just the tagline of your blog was enough to make me gasp with happiness. 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you came by. Sounds like your life is pretty packed… hang in there! Sometimes just knowing why things are rough – and that circumstances may be beyond your control – can be enough to let you exhale and move forward. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I have been on this mission of identifying the stress in my life and getting it out of my life. I’m loving the peace that’s coming back into my world.

    1. I keep trying to relearn this lesson myself! So often someone else can accomplish in 10 minutes what it would have taken me an hour to figure out! Thanks for stopping by:)

  7. This is an interesting ‘take’ on the Johari Window model and it makes the concepts easy to understand. I learned this week about a friend we have met on FB – young-ish, 45, who has suffered a stroke. If that doesn’t put things into perspective about ‘sweating the small stuff’ then nothing will.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend, Caroline. You are so right about perspective. Suddenly being able to breath and think and see trump our concerns about meeting deadlines. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your comment!

  8. I found you via Blog Formatting’s Blog Commenting Weekend and I am so happy I did! I love this advice! I am such a stresser and usually make a situation far worse than it really is.
    Have a great weekend 😀

  9. This post was so timely for me and I love how you broke it down into 4 very understandable scenarios and provided action for each. I am horrible when it comes to procrastination. Keeping it moving forward, just taking a little step, is a big help for me. I just had a life situation that was extremely stressful and my plan of action is not to take that route again 🙂 Sometimes, you do have those choices, sometimes you do not. Thanks for a very thought-provoking and encouraging post. I’m going to do at least 1 thing before the night is over that I have put off all day!

    1. I’m so sorry for your stressful situation, Jacqueline. Seems like so many of us are facing tough challenges every day, many of which we have no control over. Best of luck as you persevere, and thanks for reading:)

  10. Great post, I am all over when it comes to stress, I try so hard not too, my husband seems to feel that b/c I do not react or allow certain things to stress me out that I do not care about the situation. Of course that it not so. I am learning to cope better and not allow myself to get sucked in. At one point I did not know how to do this,Sti;; working on it.
    Living F.A.B.ulously on Purpose

    1. Sound like you’ve cultivated a terrific perspective on the inevitably rough spots in life. That is such a gift! I think we are all still working on it – its a journey, right? Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Makes sense to me. My stress comes from dealing with my daughter who has special needs. She is an adult now, but whenever she calls, I feel myself tensing because I know it will be a problem and I’ll have to fix it. I wanted a joyful relationship with my girl and many times it is that way. Stress is a dreadful thing. I try to do deep breathing and visualizing. And I travel a lot. That is the way I replenish my “giving” well Thanks for this post. BTW, found you on Blog Formatting and wanted to check you out. I’m from Out One Ear.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Linda. I imagine that much of your stress comes from feeling a pressure to fix problems which you either cannot, or which will cost you dearly. My heart goes out to you. We dream of perfect relationships when our children are born, and sometimes it is more of a journey. I will definitely be checking out your blog. Be encouraged!!

      1. I found you again! Appreciated you stopping by my blog. And also appreciate your observation above. Which is totally true. I thought I could control/fix my daughter. But that isn’t possible. When I finally understand that we are two different people and she was going to do/act the way she wanted (no matter how much more I wanted for her) things did improve. I am encouraged. Thanks!

  12. Yes, I have felt all these levels of stress at various times in my life, but I am getting really better at not stressing over it. Ever since I read the book “Don’t sweat the small things” I am really thinking twice if a particular thing, specially one that I do not have control over, is really worth it my worrying and time. It usually doesn’t, so I can get out of that situation easily.

    1. That is so healthy, Delia! It is hard to let go, but once we realize we have no control, letting go is really the best approach. Thanks so much for reading, and for supporting this blog. Much appreciated!

  13. Another great post! Thanks Seana! I hadn’t thought about a four quadrants approach to helping to identify which types of activities create stress. (kind of reminds me of Covey’s 4 Quadrants!) Currently, I’m working on a new presentation and I’m in the High Time, Low Competence . . . I need to gather my mastermind group to bounce my ideas off of before I move into the Low Time, Low Competence area.

    1. Reaching out to a Mastermind group is such a terrific idea, Lisa! I am always amazed at the knowledge and insight others have been able to offer me when I’ve felt “out of my depth!” Best of luck with the new presentation… having followed you, I know you will be great!

  14. Thanks for the tips, and they are very well organized. I do my best to eliminate stress, but it creeps into my life every now and then. I’ve found that jumping right into the task helps elevate some of the stress. I gather all the information, and make a plan of attack. Once I have somewhat of a plan, even if it’s not the best plan, my stress level starts to go down. If that doesn’t work, I take a small break of relaxation.

    1. I so agree, Keri. Just diving in definitely gets the ball moving and helps to let the air out of the stress bubble. Sounds like you have some great tools for managing your to do list, and relaxation – as you point out – is an important part of it! Thanks for reading:)

  15. Wow, this was really helpful. I could look at each of these areas and easily identify instances when I operated in each sector.

    I think identifying where we’re at could definitely alleviate some of pressure we may be feeling.

    Thanks for sharing (visiting from #LOBS).

    1. I agree, Jennifer. Knowing why we may be feeling a certain way sort of gives us permission to feel that way. And then if possible, we can try and minimize the most stressful situations by giving ourselves more time or additional information. Thanks for your great comment!

  16. I should always put these things in mind. I think I’m more stressed if I have back to back classes to handle at work and of course have parenting & motherhood to do especially to a toddler who needs more attention & focus from me. Thanks for sharing these to us Seana!

    1. That’s so true, Rea. Having to juggle a lot in a small period of time definitely raises the stress level. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but at least we know why we are feeling the heat!

  17. Interesting concept and graph Seana. It demonstrates well that we are always revolving within one of those four categories. It’s not static. It reminded me a little about what Daniel Pink says about Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Have you ever watched his TED talk about it?

    1. Thanks, Tara. I like the way you said that… we are constantly in flux with the various aspects of life. I haven’t seen Daniel Pink’s TED talk, but I will check it out. Thanks for the idea:)

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