Hidden Sources of Stress

 Posted by on 22 May 2013 at 11:00 am  Health, Psychology
May 222013

(I wrote this in August 2012 for Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter, but it’s still relevant today.)

I’ve been highly sensitive to stress lately, so I’ve been working to identify and better manage various sources of stress in my life. I’ve noticed some obvious culprits, like inadequate sleep and travel. I was surprised, however, to discover that doing any new activity is a major source of stress for me.

For example, I recently took my first lesson on my horse Lila with a three-day-eventing trainer. Lila had to be in the horse trailer for longer than she’d ever been, stay calm without her stable buddy, and then work in a strange new location. I wasn’t sure that she’d do it. I had to drive the truck and trailer on the freeway, which I’d never done before, then find the stable. Once we arrived, I’d have to introduce myself to this new trainer and prepare Lila mentally and physically for the lesson. Also, it was my first jumping lesson in about 20 years, and I was nervous about whether I’d perform well or not and about whether I’d like the trainer.

In the week leading up to the lesson, I was anxious about pretty much everything about the lesson — about arriving at the right place on time, about Lila’s temper on arrival, about my performance during the lesson, and more. I was excited and hopeful about all that too. I’m easily bored, and I knew that Lila and I needed to stretch ourselves in new directions. Much to my delight, everything went fabulously well. Lila was surprisingly calm, the trainer was excellent, and I learned a ton.

Still — and this seems downright silly of me in retrospect — I didn’t realize just how stressful the whole experience was. I underestimated it — first, because it wasn’t work-related and second, because it went so well. As a result, I didn’t give myself the downtime that I really needed afterwards: I just pushed myself into more work and more stress without a break. That was a big mistake! As usual, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

So here’s my advice du jour: Pay attention to the myriad stressors in your life — particularly the stress of new challenges and new activities, whether at work or at play. Don’t pile up one stressor after another, or you won’t be able to keep doing your best!

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