Stress Acceptance, not Management

“I need to manage the stress in my life better.” Forget about “management”; think instead of “acceptance.” You probably think managing stress is a good thing, something to help you relax and not let stress interfere with your life. An argument can be made, however, that managing stress implies that you want to avoid the stress. And, avoidance is the worst possible way to cope with stress.

            Think about it. Suppose you have kids who are very energetic and act out a lot. Someone tells you to “manage” them better. Do you imagine finding places for them to act out, channeling their energy into appropriate behavior, or do you imagine coming up with actions to keep them quiet and out of everyone’s way? I bet it’s the latter. Let’s face it, to most people managing kids means to stifle their energy, even medicate them if need be, to avoid or at least minimize their disruptive influence.

            Similarly, stress management often means avoiding stress by trying to avoid unpleasant emotions and events in your life. Walt has the opportunity to take on an additional project at work. “Doing this project will give me the inside track to a promotion,” he says to himself. “Of course, if I blow it, I’ll really look bad. Plus, I don’t need this extra stress in my life. Screw it. Let someone else take on the project.” That’s avoidance, which allows Walt to stay in his comfort zone. He is managing his fear of failure by avoiding, not taking on, extra work. That’s less stress for him in the short run, right? Unfortunately, he gives up a chance of promotion and improving his lifestyle, and lowering stress levels in the long run. He will always be plagued with that nagging question in the back of his head: “What if I had taken on that project?”

            When it comes to coping with stress, instead of seeking ways to manage challenges, you should accept life’s challenges and seek to be empowered by facing them. This strategy involves acceptance of three things: who you are, the demands of reality, and being responsible for meeting the challenges imposed by that reality. Walt needs to face it: “I’m an anxious person who’s afraid to take on something new because I’m afraid I’ll fail.” He also needs to admit: “If I’m not willing to take on new responsibilities, I’ll never advance. I’ll be stuck in a dead-end position spinning my wheels for the rest of my life. That’s the way the world works.” Finally, Walt must agree that if he is to ever have a chance at promotion, “The first step is up to me.”

            Coping with stress is accepting challenges that you can realistically confront with actions under your control. Doing so may increase your stress in the short run, but personal satisfaction, productivity, and reduced stress levels can be yours in the long run. Coping with everyday life often means, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

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