Sunday, April 28, 2013

To stress or not to stress, that is the question

Lately, when people ask me, "So, how are you doing?" I have noticed that I usually answer in one of two ways.  The first is a deep breath, open my eyes wide, look around as if I'm not sure what to say, and then exhale, and finally say "Good!"  Or, I will furrow my brow and look around while I decide if I should be honest or not, and say "Umm... a little stressed."  As this has become a pattern, I am now resolving to work on crafting a better response because both of these options are unattractive, unproductive, and mildly pathetic.  But I hold authenticity in high regard and so in order to respond in a genuine way, I suppose I will need to actually reduce my stress levels.  Damnit.  That is way harder than just making up something more cheery to say.

At first, the very mission of "becoming less stressed" is nebulous, daunting, and ... well, stressful.  What does it even mean to "feel stressed" anyway?  It's an invisible weight that sits on your shoulders and never comes off.  Even when you're asleep.  It is being overwhelmed but not knowing when or how to get started, but knowing that you really need to.  Stress is the (or maybe just my) emotional response to uncertainty, indecision, and insecurity.

Even when I don't think I am stressed out, it still comes up to haunt me and remind me that things aren't quite good enough yet.  It might be in the form of stomach aches, dry skin, rashes... okay for everyone's sake I'll stop there but you know what I mean.  The point is that stress, for me, is very, very real.  I'm not just saying/thinking I'm "stressed out" because it makes me sound busy or important, because even if I don't say it, it is there.

It most commonly occurs surround a fear of being able to meet a goal, or a deadline, or not being good enough to take things to the next level, whatever that means.  Unfortunately for me, I happen to be a very goal oriented person.  So it makes sense when I look back on my life and realize I have pretty much always been stressed out.  Whether it was over getting good grades, making the basketball team, boys, getting into college, getting a job after college, leaving friends behind, graduating from college, finding an apartment in a new city, changing careers, moving to Hong Kong, fights, break-ups, make-ups, family, starting a business.... uncertainty, indecision, and insecurity really never go away.

So am I doomed to be forever stressed?  Simply because I'm ambitious, motivated, and want to keep growing, pushing myself for my entire life?  Or, do I secretly like being stressed?  Is that the key to my success thus far in life?  If I stop being stressed, what will keep me moving forward?  Blah blah blah.  Obviously, this won't work.  I'll never be able to enjoy anything I accomplish.  So this will need to change.

I always find it really fucking annoying when people say, "Don't stress, it'll be fine." or "Allison, you worry too much.  Just chill out."  It bothers me for a few reasons, primarily that it's kind of condescending and I don't do well with being talked down to.  But my response has always been a sarcastic, "Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Silly me.  You're so right!  I'll just stop worrying now.  Thanks so much for reminding me!" It just seems so absurd and overly reductive that someone could give you permission to stop stressing, and then you could flip it off like a switch.

But now I'm wondering if maybe these people are onto something.  Maybe I can just ... turn it off.  If I just accept both the positive and negative potential outcomes from the situation, and resolve that either way, I will be fine and life will go on... then is it possible to chip away at that weight sitting on my shoulders?  It might not go away completely, but at least I would be able to breathe a little easier.

Maybe.  I'm trying.  It's working, kind of.  Sometimes I just need to look at myself in the mirror and say, "I am not going to stress out about this."  It feels overly dramatic, like I'm in a teen movie, which is silly, so I laugh at myself a little.  And that helps.  So who knows, I'll keep trying and let you know how it goes. But for the record, to all you people who tell me "C'mon, you worry too much!" -- I still think you're condescending.