We are all too familiar with stress and what it can do to our health and well-being. Each and every day new problems crop up that create the opportunity for worry and anxiety to stop us in our tracks. But every problem that we encounter doesn't carry the same weight. Difficulties, like people, come in all shapes and sizes and keeping our perspective is important if we want to avoid being sent into a tail-spin numerous times a day.
So how do we do this? How do we keep things in perspective so that we aren't overcome with anxiety every time an obstacle shows up in our lives.
There are many ways to maintain perspective – to see our problems for what they really are and to not let them balloon to larger-than-life proportions. It all comes down to stopping, breathing, and taking the time to ask ourselves some important questions:
How important is this problem compared to others I might have?
Sometimes we are paralyzed because we see so many problems and, giving them all equal importance, we don't know where to begin. Consciously evaluate them and determine just how important each is compared to the others. This will allow you to prioritize. Make your list and deal with one issue at a time. Life seems much more manageable this way.
Is this problem one issue or a combination of smaller ones?
Breaking one large issue down into smaller bits and pieces can make it seem less threatening. Address one little issue at a time and eventually the big problem resolves itself.
Does anyone else have this problem?
Feeling that you are not alone in your struggles can, on it's own, be therapeutic, but sometimes others with similar problems can provide support and ideas as well.
How does my problem compare to those of others?
While comparing yourself to others can be damaging to self-esteem in many circumstances, this is one instance where it can actually be helpful. Look for examples of people who have much larger problems to grapple with. Better yet, reach out to help them. You will often find that your problems pale in comparison and lose their power over you.
Is my problem really a problem?
This is really about altering your perspective – reframing a negative into a positive so that you can view it in a whole new way. Many problems, when viewed from a different angle can be seen as opportunities. Can you see your problem as a challenge?...as an opportunity to think more creatively?...as a learning or growth experience?
What am I grateful for?
Our minds have the capacity to work on our problems while we are trying not to think about them. In fact, distracting ourselves with something that calms and relaxes our minds can facilitate that subconscious processing and, suddenly, the solution seems to come out of nowhere. Thinking of all of the things that are right with our lives can relieve anxiety and boost our mood helping our brains to think more clearly and effectively.
How important is this problem in the long run?
Imagine yourself weeks, months or years into the future. How important will this issue seem then? Will it really matter? Chances are good that it won't seem nearly as critical when looked at from afar.
Try all of these approaches, but know that some will work better for you than others. We are all unique and what works for one may not work for the other. For example, I have found that comparing my problems to those of the larger world helps to keep them in perspective. I've also found that looking very far into the future and imagining how important or unimportant almost everything becomes is very therapeutic. Look far enough ahead and you'll likely find that nothing really matters. In fact that is one of my personal mantras for when I'm particularly stressed out...I hear Freddy Mercury's voice singing “Nothing really matters, anyone can see, nothing really matters...nothing really matters, to me.” (That's from Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody for those who are unfamiliar). Quirky? Yes, but it works for me.
I'll likely be hearing that voice a lot in the coming week as I have a job interview scheduled. In my neck of the woods, the education field and the school counseling field in particular is extremely competitive. Few positions and many, many qualified people. Being granted an interview is quite an achievement, never-mind getting the job. So,of course, I'll be nervous. Interviews, especially in such a competitive atmosphere, are always stress-inducing. I'll be relying heavily on Freddy, but for interview day itself, I'll pull out the big guns...my “super volcano” mantra. What's that you ask?
I saw a program recently that discussed super volcanoes...those rare, super-sized volcanoes whose eruptions spew ash for thousands (not the usual hundreds) of miles and kill everything in their path. The last super volcano eruption (before our lifetimes) caused a mini ice-age.
One of these so-called super volcanoes sits under what is known as Yellowstone National Park in the western United States . Right now, underneath Yellowstone, the magma is piling up and has been for over 400,000 years. Scientists, who seem to be able to determine the time frames of each volcano's cyclical eruption schedule, tell us that this particular super volcano is about 40 years overdue. If and when it erupts, well, let's just say that Freddy's words will be true for most of us.
Somehow, this comforts me immensely. Most people would probably be totally wigged-out by this type of news, but me...it puts things into perspective for me. Interview, shminterview...when Yellowstone blows, it really won't matter...nothing really matters, anyone can see....nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me.
So next Tuesday, when I'm attempting to answer questions that I'm unprepared for and the sweat stains are growing ever-larger, if anyone listens closely enough, they might think they hear the sweet sound of Freddy Mercury's voice or perhaps the incessant chanting of something about a volcano.
Would this work for you? Perhaps not. So what will work for you? There is only one way to find out. Try everything. Whether you distract yourself with pleasant thoughts of gratitude or break your problems down into smaller pieces or allow your thoughts to drift to hot magma and plumes of ash...find a way to shrink your problems back down to size. Your body, mind and soul will be better for it. Good luck!
This post is featured in the latest edition of the Carnival for Improving Life. Check it out along with other articles on everything from personal finance to weight loss to personal growth and development.