Stress: The Vital Question to Ask Yourself

deciding which option you want

Stress is an annoyance and sometimes even a handicap to reaching quality of life, but what can we do about it? There is one vital question to ask yourself in any situation that is stressful. That question is, “Can I do anything about this?” If you answer yes to that question, then that is fantastic. You can see that you have options. Go ahead and try your solutions to the problem. In this scenario, you can feel that you can help yourself, which will hopefully leave you feeling empowered and positive.

What happens in the case that you say ‘no’ and you feel there is nothing you can do about your stressful situation? It is then advisable to recognize that even though you cannot change your situation, you can change your response to it. How you respond to any given situation is always your choice. You do not need to feel trapped, hopeless or stressed. Instead, you can choose to respond in calmness and have faith in yourself that you will come up with some kind of solution at some point.

Let’s take Tracey* for an example for the use of this vital question.

Tracey: My daughter did not pass her entry exam to high school. I am so stressed out, I feel worn down and exhausted by this problem. I can’t see a way through it and the more I am worrying about it the worse I am feeling.

Possible challenge: Can you do anything about this?

Tracey: Not right now; we need to wait for my daughter to attempt the exam again next month.

Possible challenge: So what can you do right now about this problem?

Tracey: I can test my daughter after she has revised again later today, but right now nothing. I actually feel a bit calmer now.

Tracey shows us that when we ask ourselves the vital question “Can I do anything about this?” we can often come up with solutions. This in turn will reduce stress.

Let’s take Mike* as an example of this vital question in action again.

Mike: I am so stressed out with my boss who keeps giving me more and more work to do and I can’t keep up.

Possible challenge: Can you do anything about this?

Mike: I could say no but then I would lose my job.

Possible challenge: Would you really lose your job or is that your assumption?

Mike: My assumption, but I am scared.

Possible challenge: Can you do anything about this?

Mike: Yeah, I can get to sleep earlier tonight. I know I can be more productive at work when I sleep better at night. I can also speak to my boss about my concerns. He is actually a nice guy and he might be able to help me lighten my load and delegate some of my projects elsewhere. Wow, after I said that, I noticed the heaviness in my chest lift a bit.

The question “Can you do anything right now?” asks us to focus our attention on control. How much control do we actually have to affect change? We can never change other people. We rarely can change external situations.

Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by stress. Slowing down can be helpful in being able to think through possible solutions to the problem. We can see from Tracey* and Mike’s* examples that slowing down and talking through the vital question helps to bring clarity in often confusing situations.

*Names and identifying details have been changed.

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Aviva Barnett

Aviva Keren Barnett (PgD, M.A ) is a UKCP registered existential psychotherapist and counselor. Aviva holds a Master of Arts in Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling. Aviva, a very passionate therapist, works with individuals on a private basis.