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Do you ever wonder how much of what weighs you down is not yours to carry in the first place?

Although I like to practise never stressing over what I can’t control, it’s easier said than done. Really. Just try it out for one day.

Stress is what happens when something agitates your calmness.

And this agitation can be caused by you. Yes, you!

Stress is what you don’t say

Let me explain with a scenario so you get the picture. It’s a Monday morning and you are at your desk typing away, as you have a deadline to meet. You need to get a proposal out before 11am.

All of a sudden, a work colleague bursts into the room. Without excusing themselves, they rudely interrupt… while you are right in the middle of writing a proposal. In a very unpleasant tone, they say, ‘can you get this done by this morning?’

No ‘please’, no ‘do you have the time?’ and no explanation as to why.

Your stress levels will skyrocket just by sitting there and saying nothing.

This is just one example that you will frequently encounter. There are countless others, like not standing in your truth by saying ‘I am not happy’, ‘I am not fulfilled’ or ‘I don’t feel valued’.

Holding back information is far more stressful to the mind and body than saying it like it is.

Boundaries are healthy and necessary

Another common way that we create our own stress is by saying ‘yes’ to everyone. Each time you do something for someone else, you are leaving yourself out of the equation.

For instance, I know many of us – including myself in my younger days – used to always say ‘yes’ to social invitations. After accepting to go out to dinner or a dance, I would then find myself racking my brain for excuses to get out of it. Naturally, I would then get annoyed because I should have been comfortable with saying ‘no’ in the first place.

By guiltily saying ‘yes’ when you really wanted to say ‘no’, you end up feeling angry, frustrated and stressed out.

Basically, you create a massive amount of stress for yourself.

Unnecessary stress.

Stress is the meaning you give it

People perceive stress in different ways.

Sometimes, you experience an internal feeling – an emotion that explodes within you. Most of the time, I see this when leaders or any individuals are about to do a speech.

In some of the classes that I facilitate, I explain that the meaning you give your emotion is exactly the experience you are going to participate in.

For example, let’s say you experience a rush of adrenaline. Now, you can label that as ‘stress’ or you can label that as ‘excitement’. It’s your choice.

Similar to adrenaline, norepinephrine is a hormone that can make you more aware, awake and focused. However, if you label your norepinephrine response as stress, you are shutting your pre-frontal cortex, the leadership part of your brain. After that, you can forget about awareness and concentration.

Another hormone that can be put into the mix of a stress reaction is cortisol, which gets a bad rap. In fact, a little cortisol is good for our body’s metabolism. A lack thereof can lead to continuous fatigue, while excessive cortisol production can result in dermatological issues. So everything in moderation.

According to research, a bit of stress is actually good for you. A little rush of adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol hormones can help you perform at optimal level.

Reset your mindset

You are the gatekeeper of your own mind. Therefore, you can change the meaning of anything that you experience.

It all comes down to the way you choose to interpret ‘stress’ and other aggravating triggers in your environment.

Take some time to analyse what you are or aren’t doing to create stress, whether it be an external driver or an internal driver. Some of us need a lot of stress in our lives to function, some need a little and others choose not to entertain it at all. Drivers and comfort zones vary for every single one of us.

Psychologists now tell us that we should embrace stress and not try to reduce it. If we recognised stress as a part of life, something that is helpful rather than harmful, it will improve our productivity and wellbeing.

The load doesn’t break you down. It’s the way you carry it

The best way to acknowledge stress is to view it as an opportunity to learn and grow from the experience.

When you catch yourself labelling an experience as stress, I encourage you to do a quick check-in with yourself.

Check if the stress is an external driver. Maybe it’s someone or something in your environment. If it is, what meaning are you giving this scenario? How can you give it a different meaning?

If the driver is coming from inside, then do an internal audit or enquiry. Ask yourself ‘what is this stress all about?’ and write what comes to mind. You will be pleasantly surprised that it may be something you have carried for quite some time and no longer serves you.

You are your greatest asset. By investing in you, you are actually rewiring your brain. Like any emotion, stress leaves an imprint on your brain, which allows you to better handle the next similar situation.

As one of my teachers always told us, remember the lessons and forget the mistakes. If we can take a learning from every failure, then we haven’t failed at all.

No matter how stressful an experience is, you can always learn something from it.

This is how we grow.