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Optional Stress

Sometimes you are in a place to really learn and absorb. Other times, not so much. I attended and helped run a retreat in Carmel, CA this past weekend with my friend and fellow coach Lisa Broesch-Weeks. What a dream. We stayed in this quaint B&B that seemed like it’s own private little village. There was a main building and six individual cottages that all surrounded a grassy courtyard with a fireplace. Heaven, seriously. I was lucky enough to be there last year and to teach a workshop as I did this year too. When I’m fortunate enough to be invited into a retreat as either a guest speaker or as back of the room help I still participate in as many of the individual workshops as I can. I am kind of a self-development junkie and I know from my role as coach and facilitator and from personal experience that no matter how many times we do work on ourselves there is always more to uncover, especially given that you are not the same person who did that exercise last time.

This year I repeated an exercise that laid out how stress can be optional. I have heard this before, heck I’ve taught this before. But, I think I was in a particularly good place to really listen and absorb the material this time. Lisa shared with us that often what we think of as stress, as things we have to do really aren’t mandatory. Let that sink in. It is a story that we are telling ourselves. A cornerstone of the work that I do rests on the idea that our thoughts create our feelings. It isn’t our circumstances that cause us to feel lousy it is our thoughts about the circumstance that leave us feeling bad. I believe this 100%. But, apparently I’d lost sight of this idea when it came to my own stresses. In the coaching world we call this our "blind spot"; we can see it for our clients, but sometimes it can be a little harder for ourselves.

Lisa had us list out the stressors in our life (you can do this too) and then look at the facts of the situation. Let me use her example. When her son was young and she was raising him alone she hated mowing the lawn. The lawn needed to be mowed, she was a single mom ergo she had to mow the lawn. It stressed her out. But, when she looked at the facts yes the lawn needed to be mowed-fact. Did she have to be the one to do it? Nope. She could just as easily hire a gardener or a neighborhood kid or her son to do it for her. It didn’t have to be her. That is optional stress. Now some people would argue that all stress is optional, we won’t go there today.

I would invite you to do this exercise. Write down what stresses you, look for the facts and see if some of your stressors are optional. I found that one of my stressors (which I’ve probably written about on this blog before) was meal planning, shopping and cooking. I don’t enjoy any of it. It felt like something I was responsible for, had to do. But what I learned I don’t have to be responsible for all of it. I have enlisted my kids/husband to help plan and cook. Other options could have included using a service like Blue Apron or ordering pizza every night. The pizza might not have been the healthiest choice, but it was an alternative. The stress I was putting on myself was completely optional. And to be totally transparent, my coach friends have been telling me this for a while now. I just don’t think I was in a space to really see how I was putting the stress on myself.

Where can you identify and eliminate some optional stress? I’d love to hear about it.

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