Have you ever known someone that seems to always need to one up you on their stress? It was too common in graduate school to hear a conversation something like this:
“I have a test tomorrow and a ten page paper due.”
“I have two ten page papers due Friday and two tests this week.”
“Well, I have to work 15 hours, read 100 pages, and write my research proposal this weekend.”
School is an easy example, but people everywhere in all situations do the same thing, trying to one up each other. Are we really competing over I’m more stressed than you are?!? I will let you win because I want to avoid all the negative effects of stress. We seem to want others to validate our stress rather than our health.
There are benefits to being “stressed”. Others may feel sorry for us or do things for us. We may not be held to the same level of responsibility as others or have an excuse for our forgetfulness. Others may treat us with more care. I have a friend that will go out of her way to bring me coffee if she knows I’m having a bad morning. Or maybe we really do think that if we have too much going on it makes us more special, more needed?
Even if you have won the “I’m more stressed than you are” game, you don’t have to accept the prize. In WWII my grandfather refused the purple heart medal, which is awarded to those injured during military service, because he knew that his mother, who tended to react to stressors, would receive notification of the award before he could get a letter to her telling her that he was OK. He chose to avoid that situation and not accept the medal that he had earned. I hope that you don’t play the stress game, but even if you have more demands than others, you do not have to accept the “stress” of your stressors. Instead, turn it into eustress by considering your stressors to be tasks that may be difficult, but things that you can handle and will help you to grow.