How to negotiate your stress
Recently, a young woman took to Twitter to ask the masses how, besides the use of drugs or alcohol, people cope with stress.
I started typing in “pinot” but realized I’d be wasting my time and failing to answer the question correctly if I continued typing “grigio”. I also saw an opportunity to truly analyze and speak on what tools I was using in my daily life to ease some of the stress that comes from common sources.
My response was this:
The OP and another person took this to mean that my job isn’t stressful, when in fact it is. But the point I was trying to make was that there are different types of stresses that come with different types of rewards. And since stress is inevitable, perhaps the key to mastering how heavy our stress load can be is to change the way we look at it.
According to StatsCan, nearly three-quarters of working Canadians between the ages of 20 to 64 report some level of stress. 23% of people over the age of 15 say their days are “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful, with that number increasing to 30% for people among the 35 to 54 age group.
When I graduated university and realized that adulthood wasn’t this carefree place we visualized it to be as kids – and that stress was here to stay - I organized stress into four main categories.
The first is the stress that comes with a financial reward, the second is the stress that comes with a material award, the third is the stress that comes with a material reward, and the fourth is the stress that comes with an emotional reward. By focusing on the rewards of each, it almost proves as an incentive, taking the edge off of the stress endure daily.
Stress that is financially rewarding
Each day you go to work, you agree to perform some type of labour and to undergo some level of stress in exchange for a paycheck. It could be stress from washing dishes or from managing a company with thousands of employees. The higher your pay, the more likely it is that you will have a lot of crap to deal with daily.
But still, you go in, knowing that for however long you’re at work, you will bear that stress for a price so long as that price is worth it to you.
Stress that is materialistically rewarding
A few months ago, I wanted to purchase a Louis Vuitton bag. I was inspired by my mom’s authentic Chanel purse she had scored at a thrift store for $25. I felt so good strutting down the street with that on my shoulder that I thought, wow, is this what it feels like to wear expensive stuff? It was a strange feeling to find myself attracted to something that made it so indicative of where I shopped – I’ve always stayed far away from clothing and apparel with logos.
When I thought long and hard about it, I realized that part of the allure of this item was because I was looking for something that would validate me to others, and what’s more validating than making it clear to everyone I spent over $1,000 on a purse?
The question seems silly, but studies show people’s overall satisfaction with something is in direct relation to the price.
A few years ago, researchers looked at how people enjoyed wine at different price points. Consumers were hooked up to an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity while being told different information about the cost.
During the study, 80% of the consumers reported a preference for the more expensive wine, despite it being the same wine they were told was the cheaper bottle.
We get ourselves into trouble by associating a higher price with a higher quality and end up underestimating the reality of disappointment, leading to stress. Sure, we’ve got the tangible, material reward in all its brown glory over our shoulder. But now we’re wondering where next month’s rent is coming from.
However, if you decide that the stress of buying an expensive purse, shoe or outfit is worth the worry about where the next payment for your housing is coming from, you buy the bag and strut your stuff down the street.
Stress that is physically rewarding
After a really tough year in 2018, I strolled into a GoodLife Fitness near my house in April of 2019 to inquire about fees and amenities.
The price with my corporate discount was very reasonable, considering this would be the key to establishing healthy habits. But establishing those habits was harder than I thought. It was difficult to find the encouragement to go. And when I found it, I would go to the gym and then sit in the McDonald’s drive thru. I wasn’t being consistent.
Then I discovered the steam room. I went in there for 10 minutes after each of my workouts. Those 10 minutes of sheer phoneless, uninterrupted bliss were so rewarding for me that I started going to the gym more often. As I pushed past my personal limits, I found myself enjoying my workouts more and more and staying committed outside of the gym.
The physical stress of my workouts were proving to be more and more worth it for me as I saw changes in my body that I wanted to see.
Stress that is emotionally rewarding
When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately started panicking about giving birth. Rather than focus on enjoying my pregnancy (a difficult task to do anyway with all the extra weight), I watched videos and read forums and threads on what I could do to prepare my body for the trauma of childbirth.
But there I was, on my delivery day, more terrified than ever. A few hours after checking in, I got my epidural. A few hours after that, I pushed for a few minutes and then my daughter appeared. It was nothing like the nightmare I had made it out to be in my head.
The reward for nine months of pregnancy and those seven or eight hours of labour was my daughter, first and foremost. But the second, everlasting reward is the one that comes with being a mother. And as taxing as it can be, it’s a reward greater than both my paycheck and that Louis V bag just can’t even compare to.
When it comes to stress, you have to look at it as a bartering process. This not only helps you manage it, but helps you to see what is and is not worth stressing about.
Ask yourself, honestly, what do I get from being stressed?
Are you getting paid? Are you getting something tangible? Are you going to wind up in a better emotional place from this stress?
If the answer is no – is it still worth stressing about? If not, how do you manage that? It’s not as simple as turning your brain off.
The thing that makes stress feel like stress is the same thing that makes work feel like work – obligation. If you wanted to be an artist when you were a kid because you enjoyed painting, but now all you have are deadlines and a messy apartment – your dream job might have been better in theory. But if artistry is your creative outlet, something that you do at your leisure because it’s therapeutic, it could be the perfect antidote to stress.
Last, understand this. In the same way you can negotiate a raise when you no longer feel like the stress of the job is worth the pay, you can negotiate your stress. If a relationship you’ve been stressed out about over communication issues is no longer worth maintain the relationship or friendship, you can walk away from it. If your side hustle isn’t making you enough money to validate the stress it causes in your spare time, you can find another one or re-examine the way you run your business. But if what you stress about is the reason your bills are paid, the reason you’re clothed, fed and travelled, then you shouldn’t be looking to get rid of your stress, you should be looking at how to better manage it.
Here are a few resources to get you started - and stay tuned for a post exclusively on managing stress: