I believe that concerns are a natural and necessary part of life. We concern and stress ourselves with everything from making sure our cat gets fed before we go to work, to making sure the bills get paid on time. And this is good; psychologists call this type of concern, eustress. When someone says that they had a “stressful day” or that they’re feeling “stressed out” they are likely referring to experiencing distress; the negative side of the coin. Every day is full of stressors. You can, however, choose how you respond to them. Either constructively and proactively, or dwell on them fearfully- hatefully causing inaction or confrontational behavior. So how do you tell the difference between whether something is causing you distress or eustress?
If you were to take the time and list out every single thing you concern yourself with in life; I guarantee that you would feel differently about each concern. Some would stress you out, like your rent payment. While others could excite you, like your plans this weekend or that new cute coworker. I love to cook so if my kitchen is well stocked, planning and then creating is a fun concern for me. For me, cooking causes eustress. Some concerns are pressing however with due dates and deadlines, or other challenges well known for causing distress. Any concern can be seen positively- causing eustress or negatively- causing distress; depending on how much influence you have. For example, let’s say you can’t cook, and you want to make a homemade meal for someone. Then the task of cooking will probably be very distressful regardless of how stocked the kitchen is.
Focus on what you can control!
The secret then is to work on what you do have influence over. You’re hungry and can’t cook? Well, perhaps a friend or sibling of yours can cook. Finding a chef buddy, working together to boil noodles and fry some chicken cutlets, then eating some bomb chicken parmesan? Sounds like a good time to me! Any challenge can be spun into its little adventure!
It takes proactivity to turn a distressful concern into a eustressful one. The reactive person is more likely to spend time and effort on finding a reason why they can’t do something. Doing so causes a continual state of distress. Being proactive is nothing more than being in absolute control of your life. When you blame outside people and things for your circumstances, you are giving them the power to control your actions. Your acts become a function of people and things outside yourself and thus outside your influence. You become a puppet, giving your strings to others to pull in a futile effort to relinquish your responsibilities. When your happiness and prosperity are dependent on things outside of your control, life becomes about as aimless as a piece of driftwood out at sea. Your happiness and prosperity should be functions of things that you have influence over. Then and only then does life become a voyage to any shore imaginable, on a boat crafted through your efforts and resources.
Four categories of concern
Life would be more enjoyable if it weren’t for the massive amount of dwelling on things completely outside our control. Concerns seem to fall into one of four categories. The first category is worrying about future events that never end up happening. 85% of the things we worry about never happen. Next is the act of dwelling on the past. I would often find dwelling on thoughts of places now gone, friends, I haven’t spoken to in ages. Another category is the health worries we concern ourselves with. Sometimes accidents, injuries and unfortunate diseases happen. What good does it do dreading something that will probably never happen? The rest of our distress usually falls under the fourth category, petty small-minded concerns. This is when we waste time demonizing someone or something in our mind. It simply wastes time on things which we have little influence over and causes unneeded distress.
When we focus our energies on developing ourselves into superior individuals through what Stephen Covey called our “circle of influence,” we cease blaming others for certain shortcomings. Instead, we can proactively do something to fix our present circumstances. The more I concentrate on the things I can positively do something about, the more exciting and adventurous life becomes. So the next time a distressful concern begins to occupy your mind, decide whether or not there’s anything you can even do about it. If so then awesome, you know how to make that particular situation right. And if it’s outside your influence in one way or another, then let it go! The happiest and most productive individuals are those that have learned how to ignore their weaknesses or shortcomings and instead cultivate their unique talents, making yourself a liberated individual and the world a better place in the process.