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Bending to pressure: How much of stress is self-induced?

When I look around, I hear people talking about how stressed they feel. Work is stressful, workload is too much, kids are intense. Everything is taking a toll. Stress is everywhere. They look stressed probably because they are stressed.

Until a few years ago, I used to be one of these people I am describing. At first, I didn't call it stress...I'd say I just had too much energy and was a very active person. Which, in theory, does not qualify someone as stressed. However, in practice it is hard to tell the difference.

Before the day would start, I could already feel the pressure building in. It'd start by looking at my calendar and feeling overwhelmed with the number of meetings ahead of me and the short pauses in between - if any - where I'd always try to squeeze in a cigarette break.

The more the list of to do's increased, the more the stress kept pilling up. By the end of day, I had already smoked half a pack and my stress levels were through the roof. Next day I'd do it all over, always finding excuses about how urgent the tasks were, how important a particular meeting was. Needless to say, I felt exhausted almost all the time, I had huge mood swings and still felt I was not pushing myself enough.

Nowadays, I still have a bunch of energy; though I like to believe I invest it wisely. What changed? Well, I must admit that having children had a considerable impact on my mindset. And you may be thinking: What does she mean? Weren't you more stressed after having kids?

Certainly, there is an adjustment period which varies for individual to individual, not only for moms but for dads as well. Though I am not referring to the whole maternity/ parenting transformation, rather how my mindset about stress - more particularly, stressed at work - shifted.

Slowly, I started realizing that after ending my workday I had almost a whole other day (a good couple of hours!) in front of me where I got to spend time with my kids. In that time frame, after picking them up from school until they go to sleep, I had basically two options. I could keep obsessing about work and what I left undone and what would be waiting for me the next morning. Or I could make the best of those hours and use it as quality time with my kids.

Since I started following these cues and enjoying the time with my children, stress became relative. Yes, there is still work to be done - sometimes a lot! There are still peaks of stress, demanding meetings, and tough discussions. Nonetheless, me being stress does not magically reduce the workload - actually it can be quite counterproductive to one's focus. Nor it acts as a facilitator factor in any of the issues mentioned above.

Sounds simplistic, I know...but that's the thing about shifting your mindset. It may seem and feel as a big effort at first, but soon it becomes second nature - if you allow yourself time enough to experience it.

Despite seeming an easy pick, there are a lot of us who are prone to go with the first scenario. It is how our brains are programmed, keeping ourselves busy with worries and things which are often outside our control. In other words, there is internal work to be done when it comes to reprogramming our brains and break old patterns to open space to new pathways.

I leave you with a focal question from today's theme as food for thought: How much of the stress you feel is coming from external sources and how much is building up from within?



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