Posted by fxckfeelings on April 16, 2012
When what you’d like to change about yourself is a predominant feeling, like anxiety or depression, you end up in a double bind; you’re stressed that you feel stressed, you’re angry that you feel angry, and, especially if you’re depressed, you find yourself wanting a feeling-free existence. Since changing your personality isn’t possible, you need to settle for symptom management rather than total relief. Ultimately, certain feelings are hard to bear and feelings about feelings make them worse, but keeping feelings in check is possible, and something you can feel good about.
I know I have a pretty good life, but I seem to always be stressed, which seems largely self-inflicted due to my high standards for myself at work and home. I tend to overdo it trying to meet my self-imposed goals and feel stressed a lot trying to achieve, and upset when I don’t meet this standard. For example, I freak out if my work isn’t done on time, and if I don’t get all my chores done by the end of the weekend. I generally freak out if anything is in my inbox for more than a few days. My goal is to chill out and enjoy life more, instead of stressing out over impossible deadlines, and to more effectively prioritize what actually needs to be done ASAP vs. things that can wait.
There are many analogies made using the gazelles around the watering hole, but as tragic as that one weak gazelle’s fate is, at least, before he died, he wasn’t suffering from stress.
Sub a watering hole for a water cooler, and you see why stress has its advantages; to the degree that stress and high standards push you to work harder and do a better job, they help you survive. Gurus on TV tell you about the advantages of relaxation, but gazelles will tell you otherwise.
On the other hand, if stress makes you dysfunctional, or your freak-outs get you fired or divorced, stress is a problem. Your goal then isn’t to stop feeling stressed, because that may not be possible and it also may not be a good idea unless you have the discipline to get things done and survive without it.
Instead, your goal is to manage stress by thinking through what’s necessary rather than doing what feels necessary, and then following your own managerial goals regardless of what stress, anxiety or compulsiveness push you to do. Sometimes, as a manager, the tough part is to get yourself moving when you feel like sitting, and sometimes it’s sitting (and meditating or deep-breathing) when you feel like hauling ass.
Develop a system for setting deadlines and reminding yourself when work is due, and/or consult a coach or read a book on work-management. If you work compulsively because you’re afraid of forgetting something, then a good work-tracking system may improve your efficiency while allowing you to chill.
For now, don’t get stressed about being stressed. Your compulsiveness and perfectionism will probably never go away, but, assuming you’re prepared to live with them, your management goals are reasonable. Pursue them, and you’ll not only outwit predators, you’ll keep stress from managing you.
“I hate to feel like I’m slipping behind or doing less than a perfect job, but I believe in the value of a balanced life more than I believe in being perfect, so I will learn how to set priorities and pace myself. I will become a good stress manager, regardless of how stressful it is to learn.”
My sister is almost always unhappy and angry about life. She’s very smart and funny and has a good legal practice, but she always notices the negative, which is either her own mistakes or the things other people have done to let her down. I know our mother was difficult and our father did little to protect her, but they loved us. She’s caught more than her share of bad breaks, including getting dumped by a guy she was crazy about, but she just doesn’t get over things easily and, if I’m not very sympathetic, she makes me feel I’m one of the enemy. She complains that talking to me never makes her feel better. I worry that, if I argue, she might stop talking to me—I know that’s happened with several of her close friends and there was no making up afterwards. My goal is to help her, but what I want to do is confront her, and that would get me nowhere.
Being angry all the time is like being anxious all the time (see case above)—it’s probably a trait (or sometimes a reaction to a bad childhood) that can’t be changed. It’s also probably related to depression, which almost always makes people irritable. Like anxiety and depression, sadness and anger are close cousins; most angry people are miserable, and vice versa.
Before suggesting that your sister enroll in an anger management course, however, I’d have to agree with you that the suggestion might make her angrier. That’s what’s toughest about her dilemma and yours; being too angry too much of the time makes her resentful of everyone who disappoints her which, in the end, is potentially every friend and relative, including you. So your goal of helping her, in any direct way, is probably impossible.
If her anger didn’t completely destroy her sense of trust, then she might tell you she wished she wasn’t so angry and that she regretted the things she said and did while in a rage. If that were true, however, you would probably feel less helpless and angry yourself, and she’d probably be receptive to trying a number of therapies, including Dialectic Behavior Therapy, anger management groups, or individual time with a good anger coach.
If she thinks of herself as depressed and wouldn’t take it as criticism, remind her that medication might reduce her symptoms, including irritability. Maybe if she were less irritable, she could observe her negative thinking without believing in what it tells her.
If she accuses you of being unhelpful, accept that she speaks the truth, though it’s no one’s fault, just her condition, so agree with her and back off. Prepare to love her from, if not afar, at least a couple blocks away.
It’s sad that you can’t get her past her anger and its negative impact on her friendships and beliefs. Take pride, however, in your ability to bear the pain of loving her and making the best of it, because she’s your sister, and because her anger doesn’t have to be contagious.
“I can’t stand the helplessness of hearing my sister’s unhappiness and anger and being able to say nothing that won’t make it worse, but that’s the way it is. In spite of that, I’ve kept our relationship from breaking down, mainly by keeping my mouth shut, and that’s an accomplishment to be proud of.”