Stress Management: Replace Anxiety With A Plan

Let’s Start With A Story

I want to illustrate this stress management concept with a story. Visiting a friend in another city, we decided to go out hiking with on a cold winter day. We thought it would be fun to go off trail, so we wandered off into the mountains. We hiked through the partially snow-covered terrain for a while, but before long the wind started blowing. It was too cold. We decided to call it a day and headed back to the car.

We were both shivering as we closed the doors and cranked up the heat. Thank goodness we finally made it back. As we warmed warmed up and chatted, I noticed something was missing. I dug around in my pockets only to realize my wallet wasn’t there. I didn’t take it with, did I? Maybe I did…..and I fell in the snow a couple times. It might be out there.

I Started Stressing Myself Out.

I searched through the cushions and little cubbies, but didn’t encounter the wallet. I’m not sure why I took it in the first place, but it was almost definitely somewhere on the mountain. I started saying I can’t believe I lost my wallet over and over again. The pit in my stomach grew. How would I get home? What would I do if I wasn’t back on Monday for work? Stress slowly crept into my thoughts and I became continually more agitated. 

Eventually, we decided to go back out and search for the wallet. After a while, it seemed our chances of finding it were dismal. The ground was half-covered in snow and for a good chunk of the time we couldn’t find any footprints at all. The majority of the time, those same thoughts kept running through my head I can’t believe I lost my wallet on a hike. I’m not going to be able to get home. I’m going to miss work.

Then, It Was Time To Get Real.

As we kept searching, my mindset slowly started to change. My wallet was gone. So what did that actually mean? In what way was my life impacted? I started thinking about the actual concrete consequences of what happened. What did I have to do next?

First. I lost some money. It was gone. Luckily, it wasn’t enough to really set me back in any major way. It was definitely a bit of a let down, but not enough to crush my soul. I could still afford everything I needed. What next?

My credit cards were in there. Now I wouldn’t be able to get gas for the trip home, nor would I be able to withdraw money at the bank. I could, however, transfer money at my friend’s house, then have him take out cash so I could make the drive home for work, then order new cards when I got home. What else was in there…..

My driver’s license was in there. I had no idea what it took to replace a driver’s license, but I couldn’t have been the first person in the world to lose one. It would probably take a while and be annoying, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

I Might Have Lost Some Things, But I Was OK.

I think there were a few other gift cards or other miscellaneous items in there, but none of them were necessary either. As we hiked and I thought through the contents of the wallet and what it would take to replace them, my anxiety slowly dissipated. The knot in my stomach came undone. It wasn’t the end of the world, it just meant I had to do some other tasks. Yes, it was incredibly inconvenient. Yes, I was still pretty unhappy. The stress and anxiety, however, were replaced with clarity.

Make A Plan To Solve The Problem.

This story is just one specific example, however, I’ve converted stress into clarity by getting concrete about the consequences and creating a plan in countless circumstances. Very few problems or concerns are so pressing as to warrant a meltdown. Worrying and stressing about a problem does nothing to progress toward a solution, it only negatively impacts your mentality and health.

Get Concrete Instead Of Stressing.

I understand this process is easier said than done. There are times when a problem comes up and you can’t help but have your brain deliver worried messages. We’re going to be late! I can’t find my keys and I have to be to work in ten minutes! It’s completely natural for these types of thoughts to arise, the key is to practice awareness of your thoughts so you can catch these trends and make course corrections. It can take a while to get accustomed to this but over time, you’ll get faster and better at it.

The next time you find yourself worrying in this way, try to shift your thinking toward more concrete actions. Look at the big picture. What does this mean in the grand scheme of my life? Do I have options? What can I influence to make the outcome better? Many times, this will help alleviate some of your stress and put you in a better mental state to deal with the problem. This won’t fix every situation, it’s just another mental tool for your arsenal. Let us know what you think!

By the way, we did eventually find the wallet. I had accepted the loss at that point and mentally planned out how to replace it. I was incredibly excited and happy.

Exercise: Think about a situation in the past or currently that’s stressing you out, what plan can you make to digest the problem more concretely?

Reflect, take action, and enjoy life.

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