When we ask how to reduce stress, we might be asking the wrong question. Here’s the question we need to be asking instead.
We sat really close together on the bed so that he could see both of our faces in the Zoom window.
From the other side of the screen, our therapist described a fantasy scenario that he imagined would help me deal with my stress were it to come to pass.
He asked me how imagining that scenario made me feel.
My response surprised all three of us (the therapist, my husband, and me):
“It makes me feel worried that I would feel dead inside.”
In that moment it dawned on me that the very thing I’d been craving (infinite open space without pressure to do anything in particular) terrified me.
I’d become addicted to a consistent level of stress and needing to “perform” as a stimulant.
Imagining life without the stress/pressure stimulant felt like an energetic flatline.
In a culture so focused on collecting achievements and always working on making things bigger and better, I know I’m not the only one who’s found themselves caught in the double bind.
That’s why, when we ask ourselves how to deal with stress (and even how to reduce stress), we’re missing the mark if we don’t first explore our relationship with stress. I can practice stress-reduction techniques until the cows come home, but if there’s an unconscious part of me that’s unwilling to let go of the stress stimulant because it’s how I feel alive, the techniques won’t make much of a dent.
I’ll keep inventing pressure so that I don’t have to feel the things that are underneath the stress to begin with (like the aching loneliness of being a human amongst 7.9 billion other people, none of whom actually know for sure what we’re doing here on Earth).
What I’ve been doing instead of trying to reduce stress is fill my life with things that make me feel alive.
It’s an additive rather than subtractive technique. Makes me less anxious.
In the Do Less Planner there’s a place for a Bliss List, which is essentially things that make you feel good and make you feel alive in a positive way.
Here are some of the things on mine:
- Putting my bare feet on the grass
- Looking up at trees and allowing wonder to fill my whole body
- Connecting with friends who love me for all of my bigness and my smallness
- Being near the ocean
- Kissing my 3-year-old’s chubby cheeks
- Watching funny shows (Ted Lasso and Trying have been recent favorites)
- Watching running water (remarkably transcendent once you really get into it)
- Dark Chocolate
- The way the pavement smells after it rains
I’m finding that the more I fill my life with things that make me feel alive in beautiful ways, the less I need to depend on stress to make me feel alive.
My rate of manufacturing pressure where it didn’t need to be there in the first place has reduced.
Though the circumstances of my life haven’t changed dramatically, the stress feels way easier to deal with.
If you suspect you might also be addicted to stress, even a little, try writing out a Bliss List and adding one-two things each day that make you feel alive in a nourishing way.
You’ll likely find that the fires of your life don’t need to be stoked by stress as much anymore and that you start to find space and ease where before it was nowhere to be found.
Now, I want to hear from you:
Do you think you might also be using stress as a stimulant? What’s on your Bliss List? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Kate Northrup is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, and mother who supports ambitious, motivated and successful women to light up the world without burning themselves out in the process. Committed to empowering women entrepreneurs to create their most successful businesses while navigating motherhood, Kate is the founder and CEO of Origin Collective, a monthly membership site where women all over the world gather to achieve more while doing less. Her first book, Money: A Love Story, has been published in 5 languages. Kate’s work has been featured by The Today Show, Yahoo! Finance, Women’s Health, Glamour, and The Huffington Post, and she’s spoken to audiences of thousands with Hay House, Wanderlust, USANA Health Sciences, and more. Kate lives with her husband and business partner, Mike, and their daughter Penelope in Maine. Find out more and receive your free copy of the 5 Simple and effective ways to get the results you want in your business at katenorthrup.com.
Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio.