One vexing question I’ve been thinking about lately is why, even with all the research going on related to reducing stress, stress in the workplace (and, frankly, at home) is ostensibly as high as it has always been. For instance:
- You want to read some research on stress and lack of sleep? Try this.
- You want to read some research on stress and cardiovascular disease? Try this.
- You want to read some research on stress and weight gain? Try this.
- How about research on the correlation between stress and early onset dementia or Alzheimer’s? Try this.
And these are just a few articles among thousands we have looking at stress from various angles. Clearly, the information and science is there. But I think this is a situation where information about stress and wisdom about what to do are two very different animals.
Here’s an example of what I mean. I have often worked with people who confuse “caring” about a person or situation with “carrying” the burden with them to the point of stress. Recently, a client asked me how one goes about authentically caring without having to carry all the burden. I think that is a fascinating question, and like most fascinating questions, it does not have an easy, 3-step answer.
But as I’ve continued to think about this question, I’ve at least come up with step one. Step one is to “realize that you are doing this.” Recognize that caring versus carrying is a point of tension in your work with others.
I would also suggest that walking alongside someone in their pain does not necessitate that you carry the bag of bricks for them all the time -- even when you’re not present with them. It is possible to listen and understand, and even empathize, and then let it go. If you have a hard time letting go, I would give you an assignment to go rent Disney’s Frozen again and listen to Idina Menzel sing “Let It Go!" I know so many people right now who need to make “Let It Go” their personal anthem.
So, back to my client. When I brought up this idea of differentiating between caring and carrying, at first they thought it sounded good. But once we started planning and role-playing the conversations that would happen, my client decided they simply couldn’t do it because letting go felt like a sort of neglect and carelessness for the situation. I do understand that, so now we are off to practice more mindfulness and metacognition.
The main issue with caring to the point of stress is that stress eventually keeps you from being all that you were meant to be. If you walk around broken by stress -- even from something as noble as caring for others -- you will eventually find yourself unable to care for much of anything at all. The most caring, thoughtful, giving, do-anything-for-you individual I know is not that stressed. Sure, it comes, but it also leaves quickly as they have learned to let go.
I want to invite you to recognize that part of being able to care for others means stepping into freedom and letting their burdens go when appropriate. Stepping into freedom and letting those burdens go will actually free you from stress and anxiety. And being free from this sort of stress and anxiety will give you increased energy and focus in your work and life. Paradoxically, this stepping into freedom even restores your mental and emotional reserves for caring for other people and situations in the future. So, take that step. Let it go. Rewire.