Writing Wednesday: Reality check

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Stressed Out

Photo credit: Phlebotomy Tech

I’ve been hearing from a lot of stressed-out people lately. The job market is tough right now, and I’ve heard from several people who are unhappy in their job or are in danger of being laid off, but don’t feel they have other work options. Seniors are graduating and entering an unfamiliar new post-school world. Many people have big transitions on the horizon, and are feeling anxious about the unknown.

I’ve ridden the stress roller coaster about a million times. My family and I have moved internationally several times (we’ve lived in 6 different countries on 3 continents) and every time is fraught with anxiety and stress. Sometimes we didn’t know which country we were moving to until just a few weeks before we left. It’s nerve-wracking, to say the least. I know other people feel similarly in their situations. Any time we face the unknown, it can be very stressful.

Here’s an exercise I find helpful. When we are stressed out, it’s easy to focus on what’s wrong.  Give yourself a reality check by focusing your attention on what’s good, and going well.

(Please note this is a writing exercise designed to help you get out of a funk. If you are truly in distress please seek appropriate help.)

Think about everything in your life except the thing(s) you are stressed out about. Write all the good things in your life such as things you like about your job and where you live. Write a list of your friends and family who you know support you. Make note of your health and the health of your family members if everyone is generally in decent health. You have a home, food and transportation. What else is going well? What are some recent successes you’ve had? Write down all the good things you can think of, so you can review this list later when you find yourself slipping into negative thinking again.

This exercise is similar to a gratitude list, but it doesn’t even have to be that deep. You don’t have to be thankful for the air you breathe or that you saw flowers today. It’s more about turning around negative thinking by focusing on the things that are good in your life instead of fixating on what’s wrong.

Some people might find this additional step helpful, and others might find it counterproductive: give yourself a dose of perspective by thinking of people who have it worse than you. Maybe you don’t like your job or where you live, but otherwise there’s nothing truly bad in your life. If your kids are happy and healthy and you are all safe, you’re fine.

Your problems might seem overwhelming right now, but step back and look at them in the grand scheme of things. Focus on the good things, don’t fixate on the negatives, and keep moving forward. Good luck!


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