Do you have a lot of expectations of what you think you’re supposed to do in life? Do you worry a lot about what others think of you? Have you ever been told you were a perfectionist? If so, you may be more prone to suffering from stress than others.
You may recognise stress as that tightening feeling in your chest, the constant current of anxiety and irritability that’s bubbling within you, or the sense that you’re spiralling out of control and nothing on earth seems to help. Stress is our inability to respond to a perceived need or expectation. A sense that we are unable to meet the demands that are piling on us. Stress can be a normal reaction, one that can provide you with some motivation to act. Although, when experienced on a chronic basis, it can be unhealthy and may seriously hinder your ability to function normally.
If you just stop for a few seconds now and think- what is the main area of your life that is causing you stress? Is it your work? Relationships? Finance? Or the uncertainty of your future?
Now that you’ve identified a specific area, is it possible that your expectations are not grounded in reality? When our expectations are overreaching and unrealistic, we are more likely to experience stress. For example, let’s say that you thought you would be married or financially stable by the age of 30. Meanwhile, you just turned 29 and none of those expectations are met. If that is the case, you are very likely going to be stressed in the next year because your life is not unfolding the way you expected or planned for it to.
When our expectations and the reality we live in don’t match, we have a few choices. One is to continue on the unrealistic timeline and allow chronic stress to develop in your life. The other, is to accept your situation and live in the present moment without expecting too much of yourself.
Research indicates that people who are able to live in the present are less likely to experience stress. Techniques that encourage us to be in the present moment, such as the practice of mindfulness, allows us to let go of our attachment to imagined, future ideals and to appreciate our experiences in the here and now.
A great way to start living in the present moment is to practice awareness. During the day, observe your thoughts and make a note when you are thinking of the past or the future. When you catch yourself worrying about something, bring your attention back to the present moment and state the following: I am currently safe and well. I’ve got this. A simple affirmation can help you shift your mind from something that has the potential to cause stress. Once it gets easier for you to observe your thoughts, you can start asking yourself if you have expectations in regard to your future. Then ask yourself if those expectations are realistic.
If, on the other hand, you are already in the grip of stress over something, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you had expectations which were realistic for that situation. Then, ask yourself how you can adjust those expectations to help yourself cope better in the present, as well as prevent that type of situation from reoccurring in the future.
For example, do you sometimes try too hard to please others? Do you over-promise and feel pressured when it’s time to deliver? If that is the case, assess the situation and see if there is a way for you to set boundaries so that you won’t feel like you have to please others or be perfect all the time.
In stressful situations, we are often our worst enemy. Learning to set boundaries and live in the now can improve our state of mind and increase our ability to manage our stress.