Worrying about things that might never happen can often cause people to feel stressed such as worrying about future events or what people may think about you. People can get on a downward spiral with negative thinking habits that may lead to chronic stress.
The good news is that you can control the stress levels in your life by controlling how you perceive stress. American philosopher William James summed it up nicely when he said: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Where Does Stress Come From?
In today’s fast-moving, uncertain world, we can categorise the causes of stress into three distinct areas:
- Uncertainty and
- An Inability to change things
We live in a very fast-moving modern world with many social expectations and pressures that can lead to stress. Many things that create chronic stress are recent developments and changes in our lifestyle –crowded, congested cities, crashing computers and longer working hours to name a few. Smartphones mean we’re always contactable and rarely switch off. Advertising and social media mean we’re immersed in a culture of materialism and the constant want for more.
We live in a world full of uncertainty; in the past, many people may have had ‘jobs for life’ if they wanted them – this is no longer the case as cutbacks and redundancies are now everyday occurrences. Despite longer working hours, financial insecurities have increased, from paying the mortgage to worrying if your pension will be worth anything. The cost of university is higher than ever, yet it is uncertain that there will be job opportunities at the end. The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, along with an increased threat of terrorism also cause much uncertainty about the security of the future.
Elite-level sport is also inundated with uncertainties such as ‘will someone take my place in the team?” ‘Will I play well?” or “Will I make the selection for the Championships?”.
Due to this uncertainty, much of our focus now is on the future – we tend to invest money, time and effort for the future rather than living and enjoying today. Chances are that you spend much of your time thinking about, planning for, working toward and worrying about your future goals, whether that’s a pay-cheque, holiday, new house, new car, and even retirement. This future-thinking and behaviour mean we tend to forego enjoying what have now in the present – before you know it, you may look back and wonder where the years went when the children were growing up, and you worked those extra long hours.
The issue with this future focus is that the stress is mostly imagined – it’s the worry about what might or might not happen; more often than not, the things you are worried about won’t actually happen.
Inability to change
As many of our worries are future-focused, with little we can actually do at the moment to solve the problem, we can end up feeling helpless. Lying awake at night worrying about whether you’ll pass an exam next month is pretty pointless – starting to plan a revision timetable and study routine is the more useful strategy. Many worries and concerns emanate from events and situations we cannot control, and the inability to change the situation can be frustrating. The idea of ‘controlling the ‘controllable’ is a big saying in sport and applies to other aspects of life. If you can’t control a situation or event, then don’t give it too much thought or attention –instead, put your focus onto the elements you can control.
Take a minute to think about things that might cause you frustration and stress in your environment.
On a scale of 1-10, how much stress might they cause, and how many times in a week do they cause it?
Think of an experience some years ago that worried you due to uncertainty but things ended up much better than you expected. How would you respond to a similar uncertainty today?
Our next blog will focus on strategies for coping with stress….see you soon 🙂