A Story About Stress: What's Your Story?

All stories have a beginning, middle and end. Throughout, characters overcome problems as well as experience victories. As story lines develop they focus on a singular or competing themes. So, what sets a great story apart?  

Great stories:

  • Stir curiosity and keep us guessing how things will turn out.
  • Connect us to characters who both remind and contrast us with ourselves.
  • Heighten our imagination via dialog and multiple scenes.
  • Challenge how we identify with long-held, unchallenged beliefs.
  • Require scrupulous editing and rewrites 
 Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. -Ray Bradbury

Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. -Ray Bradbury

What about your story line? On track, or veering off-course? Is it consistent with your most treasured values?

If we aren't paying attention, stress can subtly insinuate itself and take hold of our main character (That's Us!) Sometimes  stress becomes the main antagonist - hurling blame, breakdowns and breakups. So, who's in charge here? Has stress taken over your starring role? How can we reclaim our lives and insure star billing while maintaining our values? What's required may be a rewrite from beginning to end.

Parenting: a classic stress story

Over time the twists and turns of parenthood seem like an endless act of stress. It's challenging to string along periods of consistently great performances. Yet, parenthood sets the stage for growth, belonging and meaningful moments remembered with laughter, tenderness and celebration. Let's breakdown parenthood through the lens of a stress story and how to shift out of the tendency to lean towards strain and tension.

In The Beginning

“Once upon a time we decided to have a baby.”

At some point couples talk about having children. When the idea becomes a goal, the occasion represents a cause for celebration. New parents often find themselves overwhelmed by questions concerning how to best raise a child. Questions give rise to stress around defining mutual family values to ensure their child functions and shines as an adult.

From our child's inception, we remain curious about how things will turn out. Parents instantly bond with their offspring. They are heavily invested in a child's development. A natural combination of curiosity, connection and investment subtly leads to stress. This sets up parents to link such stress to their kids. 

The Middle

“And then the baby became a teenager with feelings, hormones and opinions.”

The family stress story takes a new turn during adolescence as parents lose control of their kids. Their child's peer circle becomes a stronger influence - for better or worse. Kids' persistent urge to test boundaries builds alongside an identity wanting to distinguish itself. Dialog at this phase fuels family members' individual imaginations. Family scenes begin to center on drama and high emotions.

Perceived parental loss of control builds tension and chaos. Stress weaves itself throughout normal family interactions. Healthy parenting “anchors” may disappear if an illusion of what is happening outweighs the truth. At this stage, stress stakes are high and parents often hit their stress threshold. To minimize stress, parents may opt to survive uncertainty rather than identify and confront the conflict which can effectively resolve numerous problems.

The End

“How do we pull away and stay close at the same time?”

When do we transition from the parenting story and introduce ourselves to relating to our child as an adult? Our kids no longer need permissions or our clasped hands to cross a busy street. They are free to make independent choices and direct their lives as they see fit. Parents wonder how their kids will cope with adversity. Will their jobs be disappointing or contribute to their happiness? Will new friendships keep them strong or take them down? Are they set up for failure or success? Where have we gone wrong?

Getting to the Real Story

We need to transition from creating stress stories (largely unpredictable and fraught with unknowns) to pursuing a deliberant tale. It is, indeed, possible to learn from stress. We can rewrite a story where deliberate choices uphold our wellbeing and embrace positive change.

Stop. Look. Listen. Can you pinpoint a moment when a thought or activity shifted from pleasurable to stressful? Most of us will likely have a hard time doing so. Maybe the point of initial awareness is not as important as being aware we are in a stressful state. Instead of climbing the walls of distress we can:

  1. Move towards choices allowing for greater peace of mind. Stress likes to keep us chained, stuck and hurting. Distancing from stress doesn’t have to be complicated. Use silence and breath to step back. In the quiet we better open our minds to simple solutions.
  2. Rebound and reset the stress button in shorter periods of time. Remind yourself of what you value most - peace or stress. Let positive values take center stage and give you the push required.
  3. Allow your lead character (You!) to lead - or cast a coach as advisor. Who or what can help rectify stress in your life? If you have no answer, it’s time to talk to a third party such as a coach who has perspective and training to offer healthy options.

The key to conflict is to actively seek resolution. Perspective unlocks the door of possibilities. Helpful thoughts and activities connect us to our inner voice. Make choices which nurture vs. upset. Fantasy and reality are distinguished between by introducing clarity.