When’s the last time you were stressed doing something you love? Stress thrives in the void between our values and our actions. So when we’re doing things that reflect our values, stress is squeezed out. But as the space between our values and our actions grows, stress happily fills in. Stress is natural outcome of disconnect between how we live (our actions) and what we believe (our values); so the closer the two come, the less opportunity for stress.
Viewing stress through this lens provides us a road map to reduce it. When I noticed my stress level rising, I looked at my daily schedule for the source. Though I value exercise, I hadn’t worked out in a week. Value/action disconnect. When a friend noticed herself losing her cool, she found that though she treasured quiet time with her spouse, they hadn’t been out alone in over three weeks. Value/action disconnect. And when a super-anxious client with a strong Catholic upbringing mentioned she hadn’t been to church in years, she realized the value/action disconnect could be responsible.
Stress thrives in other places, too. Our values and actions can be perfectly aligned and we can feel stress from illness, conflict, powerlessness, pain. But stress in the value/behavior disconnect is more within our control to relieve. It’s not about a perfect alignment every day. We can all tolerate periods of stress, but when it becomes too intense or too chronic, it’s time to recalibrate.
So how can we limit value/disconnect stress? Think about your values and what’s important to you. Check that this is reflected in your day-to-day. How closely your values and your actions are aligned? Then start at the areas with the highest disconnect and make a plan to take one step towards closing the gap. The client above decided to go to Church once a month. The reconnection to the religious community and habits she valued relieved stress tremendously. The tighter the connection between beliefs and behavior, the less space for stress to live.
Debbie Granick is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a Therapist in Raleigh providing both counseling and medication to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mental health. She is available to speak about wellness to groups of all sizes.