What Stress is in Our Life?

It seems that everyone is completely overtaken by the stress in their lives. While I was doing coaching this week with some of my clients, I realized how much stress our kids are feeling and how it shows up in their lives. Stress can show up in our kids’ lives through some of the behaviors they’re having, whether they’re withdrawing, feeling sad, or avoiding. Avoiding is a great technique when people are stressed. When I was looking at this with some of my clients, what I recognized was that first we needed to figure out what stress was. For so long in my life, I felt that there were times when I wasn’t stressed and that I loved what I did. “That doesn’t bring me stress. I’m not stressed at all.” What I realized was that that was wrong, because stress is pressure. It’s not just any pressure; it’s the pressure of the outcome that we’re expecting.

Let me just give you an example, especially for our kids. When we see our kids stressed out, what I see with my clients and with my own kids at times is when there’s a big test, when grades are coming out, or when there’s a project that’s due. Is it the project or the test that is creating that stress for them? Probably not; it is the outcome they’re looking for. Here’s the outcome most kids are looking for: to get that A and get that grade. So it’s the outcome, or it’s to turn it in on time because there’s a timeline and the pressure of the timeline. It’s either that outcome of getting it turned in on time or the grade. If I ask the client, “If you had more than a week to do that report, is it really about the timeline? Is there pressure anymore about the report?” The client’s like, “No, not at all.” For them, it is the pressure of the time. For another client, they said, “It didn’t matter if it was a week, two weeks, a month, or a day.” It’s knowing that they did it right to get the A, because getting it right means that they got the 100 or the A on it.

There are different outcomes that your children are looking for when they’re doing the project or taking the test. Part of that test is the anxiety that creates the stress. I know because I’ve had it and sometimes still have it. When there’s a seminar I’m taking and then we’re going to be tested at the end of it, all of a sudden as soon as they say we’re going to be tested, it makes my heart start pounding like, Oh my gosh! I’m not a test taker,” which is an identity I have created for myself because of past references to how I just never really did well on tests as a child. So the stress of taking a test, the pressure of taking a test, comes from not knowing what I’m going to do; it’s, Am I going to get an A? Am I going to show that I understand this material and get that A?

For our kids, we really need to step into the pressures they’re putting on themselves, which is the stress. What is the outcome our kids are trying to accomplish that’s putting pressure on them? We can’t eliminate the stress in our lives; there’s always going to be an outcome we want. There’s always going to be a time crunch. For us adults, and I can speak for myself personally, the stress that comes into me is honestly not letting anyone down. If I have a whole day of coaching clients and I have to do a talk, I need to write, and then my kids have to get to their practice, my husband needs something from me, my mom is calling me and she needs something from me, and then I have a friend that’s reaching out and she needs something from me. It’s not that I mind that people need something from me; it’s that if I don’t get it done, who am I going to let down? My pressure is again on the outcome. It’s the outcome of letting someone down or having them have a different opinion of me because I’m not trustworthy, I don’t keep my word, or whatever it is. It’s that outcome that creates the pressure, which is the stress that I feel.

What happens when we are stressed? It creates that cortisol in our body that is not great; they call that the stress hormone. It takes away from our sleep, it takes away from our nutrition, and it starts to impact everything around us in our lives. So if we’re feeling it as adults, what are our kids feeling? Imagine this: if we were able to really help our kids realize what this is and we took away the label of stress and gave it the label of what it is like, what is it that’s making you feel tense, scared, fearful, or overwhelmed by some of the feelings that come along with that word stress? What is it really? What’s the outcome you’re searching for in order to create that pressure on you? What can I do to support you in releasing that?

Here’s what really happens: when we change that focus away from that outcome, maybe we’ll take a moment and go exercise. Why do they say exercise relieves stress or eating or cooking a nutritional meal? It is because we’re putting our focus on the exercise that our focus is no longer on that pressure. If we’re cooking, we’re taking our focus away from the pressure of what’s due, how it’s due, or the anxiety of what we need to do and putting it on cooking a great meal. If you think of a pressure cooker, like the old ones that have that little weight at the top, if we just push it a little bit, it releases some of the pressure. That’s exactly what exercise does, as does focusing on eating a good meal and getting good sleep. Good sleep can actually take away that pressure as well. It’s releasing that pressure that gives us a clear mind to say, “What is really affecting our children at that moment? Is it school work? Is it the timing? What’s their outcome that’s really creating that pressure?”

I use school as an example because, for the age range that I do a lot of coaching in, it could be anything; it could be social pressure that creates stress. It could be for some of our older kids because I work with some young adults. It could be the pressure at work, finding a job, or finding a college that they are going to go to. Some of the stress comes from parents. As parents, sometimes we put pressure on our children because their outcome is not to let us down; their outcome is for us to be proud of them. If they make a decision that, in their minds, they’ve created a story that we won’t like as parents, what pressure have we put on them that is actually their stress?

Again, here’s the strategy: help them figure out the cause of that outcome. How could we help them see things in a different way to release the pressure, to help them see that maybe they have more time or a different way of handling this, and you know, getting an A is not going to really change anything because they’re still going to have an A overall? What can we do to release some of that pressure toward the outcome that they want that’s creating all that pressure and stress on them?

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