Insights on Stress

“Stress is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there’.”

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (Eckhart Tolle)

Originally posted on March 9, 2018 as Mental Spring Cleaning Week 1 – Stress Tracking

By Scott Waletzko

Kicking off my March Maple Challenge, I spent the past week using the Stress Tracking feature of Maple. My goal was to use the feature regularly and then reflect on the experience overall. Right away I was surprised to find that I was getting more out of it than I thought I would, and in different ways than expected.

Rather than pick a set time each day to record my stress, I figured I’d try to pay attention to my stress levels throughout the day and when I noticed them rising I’d pop open Maple to rate and then describe my stress (in just a sentence or two). I didn’t expect to do this very often. In fact, I remember thinking that my biggest problem would be that I wouldn’t have any stress events to document because I’m so good at dealing with my stress.

Ha! That, my friends, is the dictionary definition of hubris.

On the first day of the challenge everything was business as usual until mid-afternoon when I remembered that I forgot to check my stress levels. I stopped what I was doing, took a breath to be introspective, and immediately recognized the markers of stress. I could feel it right away when I took the time to check in with myself; in my shoulders, in my breath, in the way I was sitting at my desk.

So, the first thing I noticed about tracking my stress was that I’m so used to feeling anxious that I don’t even notice it anymore. This is not a good thing.

I popped open Maple and rated my stress as Significant, the second highest level available. I figured I’d reserve Extreme Stress for that moment when I’m about to be run over by a metaphoric truck. Little did I know that was coming sooner than I thought. I then began to describe what I felt was triggering my stress.

The second (and perhaps most important) thing I noticed as I did this was that it is tremendously cathartic just to document what’s going on. What I thought would be a brief description of my stress triggers quickly devolved into some sort of bleak metaphysical dissertation on life, work, the futility of progress, and whether it was all worth the struggle. I let myself keep going until I was done, without judging or editing, and when I finally clicked “Save” I felt a sense of relief.

It was as if the act of looking at my stress calmed it, taking the edge off. I literally felt better just from typing it into Maple. The irony here is that I, like most people, usually try to avoid thinking about what stresses me out, perhaps out of fear that if I give it attention it will grow and take over.

Turns out it’s quite the opposite.

The third thing I learned during this experiment was that tracking my stress quickly became addictive. I created 5 stress trackers the first day alone. By the third, my stress was up to Extreme and I was just letting it all out in the description field. I found that the more I let myself type (again, without no evaluation or modification – just stream-of-consciousness word vomit) the more it kept the stress at bay. It was as if the act of writing it down was the same as saying “I see you stress, and I’m not having it”.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that tracking your stress is a miracle cure. I’m still stressed, and I still need to learn how to manage that stress, but by tracking it I feel like I have a better handle on what’s going on with me, and I feel like I’ve gained a bit of control over my feelings. This is a great start.

I’m going to keep tracking my stress and starting this weekend I’ll start to use the Sleep Tracker every morning. I’ve actually been having some crazy dreams lately and I can’t wait to start to document them. I’m hoping that the Dream Journal portion of the Sleep Tracker will help me better remember and perhaps even understand what my subconscious sleeping mind is trying to tell me.

I’ll be back in a week to let you know how it goes. Until then, Happy Mapling!

A note from Chris: I love that Scott jumped in and started his challenge with the Stress Tracker.  I use it daily.  One of the things that has shifted in the world since he originally wrote this is, we no longer wonder if we are stressed, we know we are.  We no longer ask ourselves how much stress we have, we know its higher than it was six months ago.  This is why I love tracking each day – in addition to those measurements, it’s an opportunity to consider what is triggering my stress. 

I’ve learned the things I assumed would be at the top of the stressor list, weren’t. Other things that I thought would probably be little annoyances were actually key drivers that triggered higher stress, anxiety, and the emotional roller coaster. (Ok that’s not good!)

One last thought: don’t assume you have to accept those high stress levels.  There are many great resources, especially now, available to guide you while you learn to manage your stress.  The key is knowing what you are dealing with and deciding to make changes for a healthier you.  Small steps, like tracking, can give you the information and motivation you need to take bigger steps.  

Armed with my tracking insights I was empowered to make decisions about those triggers.  Self-care is often about healthy boundaries.  Understanding what things were disrupting my well-being and productivity have made it simpler to select and set those boundaries. 

Post-script – Putting those limits in place took some soul searching – it was SCARY – but I got positive results almost immediately.  The journey continues.  Onward!

#SelfCare #Wellness #StressManagement #TrackYourStress #MeetMaple

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Scott Waletzko is the managing partner responsible for all things technical at R. Alliance, including the design and development of Maple.

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