If I asked you right now if stress is necessary, you’d probably say no. In fact, you’d say you’re desperate to get rid of yours. All my clients sign-up with me because they want to be less stressed, but when it comes down to it, and we start looking at their thoughts, it turns out they subconsciously think stress is serving them. Today I’m going to show you the ways in which you secretly believe that stress is necessary, and I’m going to teach you why it’s absolutely not.
Let’s start at the beginning. Stress is a set of physical sensations in the body caused by hormonal and physiological changes, primarily the release of adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. You don’t need all the science here, but what you need to understand is that the physical sensation of stress is an evolutionary adaptation that was helpful when the main causes of stress were things that wanted to eat you.
But today, it is no longer very helpful, because now the main causes of stress are things like work emails and ex-boyfriends. I’m not saying that to make light of the experiences you find stressful—quite the opposite in fact. The reason these things feel like matters of life and death is that your brain is responding to them using a system that evolved to handle literal life-and-death situations.
This doesn’t sound like a good way of running your brain, does it? You might think you want to get rid of stress as soon as possible. But ask yourself if you believe any of these thoughts:
• If I’m not stressed-out, I won’t get my work done or do a good job.
• If I’m not feeling bad about my body, I won’t eat well or go to the gym.
• If I didn’t feel bad or guilty, that would mean I’m a selfish person.
If you’ve said any of those things to yourself, you actually believe stress is necessary and useful.
This is a common idea in our culture, that negative emotions like stress, anxiety, guilt, and shame will produce positive action.
But it’s 100% wrong.
When human beings are stressed, we want comfort. When we’re anxious, we want to distract and avoid, and when we feel shame and guilt, we want to hide. Humans do not have positive responses to negative emotions.
When you’re anxious about something at work, do you tackle it right away and work quickly and efficiently on it? NOPE. You procrastinate, you avoid, you distract, you get on Facebook, you get a snack, you stare at the wall, and then eventually, when the deadline gets close enough to terrify you, you push through the anxiety and get it done. The anxiety didn’t serve you. It just delayed your progress and created resistance.
Many of my clients are high-achieving, ambitious women, and they believe they’ve been fueled by their anxiety, insecurity, and fear. They have always experienced these things, and they have sought accomplishments to try to quell those feelings. So now they associate the accomplishments with those feelings.
But correlation isn’t causation. You didn’t achieve what you’ve achieved because you were creating anxiety, insecurity, guilt, and shame for yourself. You achieved what you’ve achieved despite those feelings. You white-knuckled through them for years.
And if you’re reading this blog, that probably means you hope there’s another way. But you may consciously or subconsciously also fear that without those negative emotions, you won’t keep moving.
It’s a common fear, but it’s misplaced. Give yourself some credit. Is it likely that someone with your interests, passions, desires, goals, hopes, and dreams is going to just sit on the couch forever if you’re not constantly driving yourself like a sadistic animal trainer? Nope. You might sit there for a week or two to recover from years of emotionally abusing yourself, but eventually your energy will come back. And now it will be created by intrinsic motivation—ironically the very thing you’ve been beating yourself up for not having.
That’s a big jump. So just start with these questions:
What would my life be like if I weren’t driven by anxiety, fear, insecurity, shame, or guilt?
What emotions would I want to have instead?
What would I create in my life with those emotions driving my actions?
You get to decide how to think, feel, and act in your life. If you want to create something ambitious and amazing, you can do that. What I’m here to tell you is that you don’t have to use negative feelings as the fuel to do it. In fact, if that’s your approach, you’re much less likely to achieve what you want. And you’re 100% less likely to enjoy the process or the result.