It’s perhaps surprising, but true: the idea of reducing stress can actually cause anxiety rather than alleviate it. We do have legitimate reasons for clinging to stress despite wanting relief from it. Sometimes the mere idea of relaxing causes anxiety because we’re afraid that our performance will decline or that seeking stress relief will cause us to be judged as weak. Stress can come to be a badge of honor, too. High degrees of stress can show the world, and ourselves, how much we are achieving or how much we care about loved ones, and more.
Yes, we have reasons for clinging to stress, and feeling anxious about reducing it is normal and legitimate. That doesn’t mean, however, that stress isn’t harming our mental- and physical health. This list is just a sampling of what stress does to us. Stress can cause:
- • Anxiety
• High blood pressure
• Heart disease
• Angina (chest pain)
• Digestive problems
• Sleep disturbances, including insomnia
Additionally, stress exacerbates almost all existing mental disorders and physical illnesses.
You know that stress is harmful and preventing you from fully living the quality life you want to live. You know that it’s compromising your mental health, physical health, relationships, and general enjoyment of life. Yet just thinking about reducing stress causes (or increases) anxiety and fear. How on Earth do you deal with this conundrum?
Fixing the Stress Conundrum
Getting out of this trap will likely take some effort, but it is absolutely possible to reduce your stress in spite of being afraid to do so. Not only that, in the process, you can even begin to perform better than ever—which in turn will reduce stress even more.
The process of moving past your anxiety and reducing stress can involve these steps:
1. List what stress reduction means to you, both positive and negative possible outcomes. What are your goals, and what are your fears and anxieties? Be specific, and list all that comes to mind. No holding back.
Positive Outcomes That Could Come When I Reduce Stress
Example: I’ll feel great and will be able to bike long distances again.
Negative Outcomes that Might Happen When I Reduce Stress
Example: I wouldn’t be able to ride anyway because I’d lose my job and wouldn’t be able to afford the bike and all other equipment.
2. Explore your anxieties and fears about reducing stress. If they happen, what will it mean for you (what is the worst that can happen)
My Worries About the Consequences of Reducing Stress
Example: I’ll lose my job and won’t be able to afford any of the fun things that I could do.
What This Means To Me/The Worst that Can Happen
Example: Everyone would know that I had failed and that I don’t even have enough money for a stupid bike. I couldn’t show my face around people that know me as successful.
3. Meet your fears where they are. Assume they come true. How can you use the result to work toward the positive goals/outcomes you listed above? Use the negative as an opportunity to achieve the positive.
Because This Happened (or Might Happen)…
Example: I lost my job and people are judging me as a failure.
…I Can Now…
Example: …pursue a different job or even a new career, something that I like better and actually would be less stressful. I might feel good enough to enjoy my life, and I really don’t have to buy $2000 worth of equipment to do so. Life isn’t all or nothing.
By doing these exercises, you come to meet your anxiety about stress reduction right where it is: in your way. This helps you accept different possible outcomes, and it can also help you see that some of your worst case scenarios aren’t likely to happen. Will you really lose your job because you’re making time for a nightly walk? Will that stress-reducing activity make you perform less well? Or will it possibly make you do your job even better? Either way, you can see that you can create positive outcomes. This knowledge alone is an excellent wellbeing enhancer.