Over the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling so stressed that I’ve been experiencing the tightness in my chest again. At 26 I shouldn’t be having these symptoms. And it got me thinking. Here I am, publishing this blog and telling all of you what you should do about your stress and how to avoid it. Apparently, I’m the biggest hypocrite of them all.
I realized I’m missing the key ingredient to reducing stress. What is it pray-tell?
Letting go and realizing that I cannot control everything, especially other people. What I’ve figured out about the world is that everybody is looking out for Number One, themselves. Often times, problems, or stress, occurs when your number one issue conflicts with someone else’s number one issue. I can’t hope that anyone else will be courteous enough to let me focus on my number one issue, when their days are booked solid dealing with their number one issues.
Let me give you an example of something that generally presents an everyday stressor for me:
The highway exit ramp that merges onto the main road by my house consistently presents difficult challenges. When I get to the merge on the main road, I have less than 20 feet to cross three lanes to get to the left turning lane. It is easy to make it across those three lanes when there is no traffic, or the preceding stop light is red, blocking all oncoming traffic . When there is traffic, however, it is difficult to get all the way over in time. When most people have to cross those three lanes from the merge point, they stop, or come to a crawl while waiting for the traffic to clear.
Not to long ago, I had to make the three lane cross during a particularly busy rush hour. I had to stop at the merge point. Apparently the guy behind me, was in a very big rush to head straight through the intersection. Do you see how our interests conflict? For him, I have become the epitome of the little old lady who cant see and shouldn’t be driving because I’ve “stopped in the middle of the road.” I become his problem. I become the person that is slowing him down, making him late for…whatever… And I know I stressed him out because he felt the need to flash his big 4×4 pick-up-truck lights into my tiny toyota rear and side view mirrors. He needed me out of his way to take care of whatever his number one priority was at that moment.
That other driver and I exist in two completely different self-centered worlds. Is my safety and personal property (my car) more important than his lateness? To me it is: whether I live or die is of huge consequence to me; and I don’t want my car wrecked in what I view as a preventable accident. But those issues meaningless to the stranger in the other car.
For him, being late on this particular day could be his last strike: He could be fired from his job and have no way to feed his 6 young, motherless children. Although, he could just be eager to get home from work because his dinner is getting cold. Either way, what I’m doing is conflicting with his interests, and to hurry me along, he flashes his lights at me.
These are the types of things that stress me out, people. I’m not the only one here with a strong TYPE-A personality. I have to admit, I snapped. If I had a rock in my hand, I would have thrown it as his car. And I know he felt stress, too, otherwise he wouldn’t have been flashing his lights/brights at me. We each had our own self-centered interests being conflicted by the other.
Thinking about all this stirs me up a bit. But, the reality is, I couldn’t have changed anything about the situation. Traffic was bad, as it probably always will be. And the other drivers will always be on a mission to get to where they’re going, on their schedule, with an effort to protect their safety.
Daily stressful events, like this merge point on my commute, are killing us. Basically, we all want to get to our destination without anyone getting in our way or bothering us. We want the world to fall into place as we believe it should be, as if we were the only person that mattered. See all of those other people on the road? You have no idea where any of them are going. You have no affect on their daily lives. You matter nothing to them. And it seems, we are giving them all of this power to kill us, slowly, by letting their actions stress us out. The guy behind me could have flashed his lights, laid on his horn and hollered out the window at me, and I wouldn’t have budged if I hadn’t felt it was safe to do so. The only thing I could have changed is my emotional reaction to it.
We have to realize that other people are looking out for their personal interests, and those interests just might conflict with ours. Realizing this, we must accept that we can’t control everything, especially how other people relate to us.
This can be applied in many other situations: the annoying/hovering boss at work, the attention seeking child, the ambivalent landlord, the inconsiderate roommate, the needy significant other, etc. All of those people are going to do things that conflict with your goals, intentions, choices, wants, needs, expectations, etc. Remember, it has nothing to do with you, and you cannot control what they do.
Oh, one more thing. Your motivations may actually be better than someone else’s: ie, the crack addict who steals your purse on the metrorail most likely has no healthy intentions. BUT, you have no way of controlling the actions of another. They are going to try to steal your purse because they want your money. You can’t change that. Letting a situation like this, or others that are out of your control are a waste of time, and energy.
Good luck this week.