Why You're The Reason You're Stressing

I was walking around in Chinatown over the weekend and I saw something that I found to be so ridiculous that it literally made me laugh. It’s something that you see so often in NYC that chances are you pay no mind to it. I was about to cross the street leading straight off the Manhattan Bridge when I paused to watch the person that was crossing just ahead of me.

The street was filled with cars coming off the bridge, all stopped at the red light a few yards ahead of them. Just as in any traffic jam, the cars inched forwards every couple of seconds waiting for the light to turn green — you know…to get a head start? So this woman crossing just ahead of me passed between two cars that were both at a standstill, so that when she was in front of one car the opposite car rolled forward about three feet or so.

The driver of the car behind that one, the car that the woman was now passing in front of, got extremely frustrated that he wasn’t able to instantly inch forward three feet himself and became stressed to the point of even giving a short honk just as the woman moved out of the car's way and clambered up onto the sidewalk.

After the driver's frustration subsided he rolled the car forward those three precious feet and proceeded to continue to wait for the light to turn green. Road rage — even in the slightest form — is one of the most irrational causes of stress. The driver decided that moving up three feet is of the utmost importance and for this reason, when he was unable to instantly inch forward as the car in front of him did, he got stressed and angry. Over three feet! Three feet that led him to nothing but another stop and more waiting. Not only did those three feet achieve absolutely nothing, but getting stressed and angry also had no benefit.

This sort of stuff happens all the time, drivers get pissed off about the most ridiculous things. You’ll see people running red lights just so that they can stop their car at the next red light at the end of the block. You yourself have probably done some speeding in order to get to somewhere insignificant a bit faster. Sure, you were doing 90 in a 60, risked your own life, the life of your passengers and the life of everyone else on the road… but hey, you made it home to watch the football game in 20 minutes versus 30. Yay 10 minutes!

People make silly decisions all the time, not just when driving. It’s because we give the wrong things importance and fail to prioritize. This confusion that we find ourselves in often causes us to stress out over the most trivial of things — like those three feet or those 10 minutes.

As human beings, we like to worry. We like to fabricate the illusion of drama in our lives in order to believe that our lives are more exciting than they actually are. Some of us are more prone to such drastic measures, but everyone — and I mean everyone — stresses over things that, in the grand scheme of things, hold no importance. We stress over things that are either out of our control or are unimportant, trivial and shortly forgotten after-the-fact.

When deciding whether or not something is worth getting worked up over, the first thing that we should consider is what exactly it is that is making us angry. Why is it that we feel frustrated and is the frustration warranted? Will this turn of events affect me significantly or, for that matter, at all? What usually happens is that there actually is something in our lives that we are unhappy about, something that we mull and stress over. This unhappiness affects the way that we experience and see the rest of the world.

The next thing that we know, the wisdom tooth that has been growing in is causing us to scream at our significant others for forgetting to pick up some eggs on the way home. The stress from one situation — warranted or not — spills over into the other parts of our lives, causing us to stress over things that are even more insignificant. The first step to ridding yourself of stress is isolating each situation you face and quarantining each negative emotion associated with that situation.

Once you isolate, you dissect each individual situation and consider whether or not your stress is warranted. Is it something that is in your control to change and alter? If it is, then forget about stressing and focus your energy on making the necessary changes.

If it is out of your control, then forget about stressing because stressing over the things that you cannot alter is actively deciding to inflict pain and discomfort on yourself. All of this takes rational, logical thought and the ability to foresee likely outcomes of situations — something that every human is capable of from birth, but also something that needs to be sharpened and maintained regularly.

Some things cause us to stress because they are stressful. However, most of the time we are stressed by things that aren’t stressful. How could this be? Because most of the time we are stressed by things that we experience when we are already feeling stressed.

In other words, because we are stressed out to begin with, things that shouldn’t cause us stress do cause us stress. Feeling stressed darkens our general outlook and we begin to perceive all things as slightly more negative, slightly more bothersome, annoying and unpleasant. This self-inflicted stress multiplies rapidly if it is not squashed earlier on — hence why people have mental breakdowns; stress expands exponentially.

If we would learn to forget about the little things that are insignificant and to focus on the main causes of our stress and discomfort then we would all be much better off in life — and much happier to boot. Once we are able to drown out all the insignificant stressors and focus on the main one(s), we can accept stress for what it is really is: a natural, motivational system.