I know what you are thinking. Usually we associate taking risks with an increase in stress. The term “risk” gets a bad rap from the strict dictionary definition meaning anything from “the possibility of suffering harm or loss” to “an element or factor involving uncertain danger.” Sounds like something we should avoid right? Yet in some instances taking a risk may be exactly what you need to decrease the stress in your life.
Let me explain.
When I was in my twenties I began therapy. One of the frequent topics during my sessions was my stressful job. My therapist would offer strategies to cope with my work stress. Yet these tips only seemed to bring temporary relief. I had been at my job for years and there were parts of it I loved. But it was a dead end as far as any financial or career growth.
After months of venting about how stressed and unhappy I was at my job, my therapist finally said, “Why don’t you quit?” It was the most obvious and logical suggestion but the force of it still hit me like a ton of bricks. “Quit my job? Are you crazy?” I snapped back. Once I was faced with a real solution to my stress I immediately found ways to defend my job. “It pays good money and I have been there so long I can’t quit now!” I found myself saying. The truth was that I was afraid. I was afraid to take a risk and make a change. As stressful as my job was, it was also comfortable. It was a comfortable rut. I had essentially painted myself into a corner, convincing myself that I was permanently trapped. The more I believed I had no choices, the more stressed and anxious I became. Yet in some ways my stress was a decoy. It served to distract me from the fact that I didn’t want to stay at this job forever. I wanted to move on and do something different.
In some warped way the stress was keeping me at a job I no longer wanted. I kept telling myself that if I could just get a handle on my stress then things would be fine. But deep down I knew that just wasn’t the case. Sometimes I think stress is a wake-up call that we need to make a big change in our life. At first it may be a whisper but then it becomes this chronic nag that won’t leave us alone. It becomes impossible to listen to anything else.
When I became pregnant with my second child I made the decision to quit my job. In many ways it was an illogical choice. On paper we couldn’t afford the loss of my income. The numbers didn’t add up. I would lose my benefits. I would stall my career. Yet I can tell you that once I committed to my decision I felt this tremendous sense of relief and joy. And it wasn’t because I was leaving my job. It was because I was leaving for a purpose. I really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I had found my true calling.
Looking back, I feel that this was one of the best decisions I had ever made. Sure there were compromises such as months of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, renting videos instead of going to the movies and staying at home instead of going on vacation. There was stress too. It can be a challenge to take care of two babies on one small income. But this type of stress was tolerable because I was right where I wanted to be. When I woke up in the morning I didn’t have that anvil in my chest sensation, weighing me down. I felt at peace for the first time in my life.
Taking the risk of quitting my job and staying at home also cleared the path for other risk taking- adventures. We were less afraid to take a chance and try something new. When local jobs were scarce we decided to pick up the whole family and move to a different state. In the years to come there were new places to live, new jobs, and new opportunities. Over time I began to understand that stress is less about risk and more about feeling trapped. I am always more stressed when I have convinced myself that there is no possibility for change. When I finally figure out that I am free to change my situation, the stress miraculously leaves. The unknown can be frightening. But what is even more frightening is to believe that you have no choices.
What is your stress telling you? Could it be that it is time for a change? Tell us your story. We would love to hear from you.
Published On: June 15, 2011