If you feel as though circumstances have you backed into a corner, it’s time to reassess. If you’re sick of your situation — your partner is driving you up the wall, you’re frustrated with your job, you’re tired of feeling overwhelmed — realize that the stress and frustration you’re experiencing has nothing to do with what’s happening right now in this minute. The stress you’re experiencing is a resistance to what is.
Instead of focusing on the right-here-now moment, the focus of your thoughts is on the projected and imaginary future state in which your current situation remains the same, or is worse. Stress comes from the anticipation that there’s no end in sight.
Take any stressful situation you have going on and ask yourself: “Where does the misery exist?” Is it here in this moment, or is it when you’re thinking about the imminent journey that this situation may travel, extending the misery and the strife? Your heightened anxiety arises from the imagined future state.
Now get really present. Shift your attention internally to the sensations in your body. Drop any stressful thoughts for a second. Ask yourself “What’s real this very second?” Nothing is too stressful in the present moment, right?
Here are three real ways to reframe your stress:
1. Acknowledge that you’re resisting what is. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed and miserable, many times this simple acknowledgement will transform your resistance into acceptance. But let’s be clear : I’m not talking about resignation where you’re not going to do anything about your situation. By acknowledging your resistance to what is you can shift from reaction to response. When you’re responsive you can act. When you’re responsive you are present and powerful. When you’re responsive you’re not stressed.
A practical example is when you’re stuck behind a really slow driver. Your reaction is to get angry. Simply acknowledge that you’re resisting what is and see what happens to your anger.
2. Acknowledge that your stress doesn’t exist now. Your stress exists in your imagined future. Don’t paint a miserable future but tell yourself a different story and get present in the now. Forget the past, drop the future, and simply be with what is right now. It’s a moment, and every moment is manageable.
3. Envision a better future. Here’s a bonus step — and it’s definitely my favorite if you want to do more than just find relief: Fast forward to the vision you’d like to be true, whatever you imagine that future state for you is. See the perfect scenario that would make you happy tomorrow, or two months from now, or three years. Now tell the story backwards and explain to yourself how the current situation was absolutely necessary, absolutely on purpose, to get you to this new place.
Telling the story backwards is powerful because it doesn’t just remove the stress from the current circumstance (the imagined future state) but it puts the current situation in a light that allows you to automatically shift into gratitude and purposefulness. That’s way more enjoyable than stress.
These reframing tips can help anytime you get knocked off your center or feel overwhelmed. Practicing them regularly can recondition you to a state in which stress and anxiety are the exception and not the norm. Therefore, because you won’t be so conditioned to negative emotion, it’s easy to catch and recenter as soon as it happens.
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Amy Eliza Wong is a certified executive coach who has devoted more than 20 years to the study and practice of helping others live and lead on purpose. She works with some of the biggest names in tech and offers transformational leadership development and internal communication strategies to executives and teams around the world. Her new book is Living on Purpose: Five Deliberate Choices to Realize Fulfillment and Joy (BrainTrust Ink, May 24, 2022). Learn more at alwaysonpurpose.com.
Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.