A large proportion of the stressful feelings we experience originate with our thoughts, which are rooted in our perceptions of ourselves and the world. If we perceive the world as a dangerous place, we may have fearful thoughts about traveling or being around a large group of people and we either avoid these situations or feel more stressed than other people do about the same activities. While there is clearly danger in the world, most of us choose to live our lives without being controlled by fears and “what ifs”. It’s not wrong to avoid these stressful situations, but avoidance does inevitably limit our lives.
Another way we actively generate stress in our lives is by failing to discriminate between things that are worth worrying about and things that really aren’t so important. If we treat small upsetting events with the same emotional investment as we treat truly significant events, such as a loved one being injured in an auto accident or losing a needed source of income, we subject ourselves to a lot more stress than we need to be experiencing.
We also self-generate a lot of stress by taking personally other people’s behaviors and actions when most of other people’s decisions are not personally directed toward us. Other people tend to do whatever they do for their own reasons, which usually have little or nothing to do with us. When we personalize every decision others make and perceive what they say or don’t say as a personal slight, we are giving way too much importance to things that really aren’t about us and cause ourselves more stress and heartache than we should be feeling.
The solution lies in recognizing our perceptions and how subjective they are. We all live with filters in our brains that assign different amounts of importance and different types of significance to what happens in our lives. We can reduce the stress in our lives by examining our filters, owning our biases and differentiating carefully between those things that really merit being upset about and “the small stuff”. In every interaction and every situation, we can ask ourselves “How important is it?” and in so doing, lower the amount of stress in our lives.
- Do you struggle with how much importance to assign to events and interactions with other people in your life?
- What are some of your thinking habits or filters that lead you to assign too much importance to some things that happen or not enough importance to other things?
- How do your thoughts and your filters operate to create unnecessary stress in your life?
- Are you successful in assigning the right amount of weight to importance to various life events? If everything you react to seems like a huge deal, you are probably assigning too much importance to some of these things.
- Have you been successful in altering your thoughts to lower your stress? If so, please share some examples of how you have done this in your life.