A recent study by medical professionals stated that personal stress levels of the average US citizen are at an all-time high, and higher still than many other technologically advanced countries. In my opinion, the reason for this lies in the sheer massive quantity of choices we can make on a daily basis. That’s right, CHOICES – about everything from what we eat, to what we wear, to how we raise our children, to how we want to be entertained, and the biggie: how we can make more money.
While my daily focus is on the stress, or rather pressure, that so many people put upon themselves to get into shape and eat healthier, I am also aware of how much stress my friends and clients feel from all the above-listed choices that fill our lives. Many worry about how they look in the clothes they choose, or more likely they fret about the clothes they cannot wear that they’d like to choose. Others stress over their children’s education, while another group worries about organic vs. GMO and how to afford Whole Foods instead of Albertsons. But here’s the reality – these “choices” that are stressing us out are often born from WANTS instead of NEEDS, something which is clearly under our control.
When I was young, my father abandoned us, and my mother held two jobs while she finished her schooling and obtained not only her Masters, but a Ph.D. During those hard times when money was tight, she would tell me that she’d make sure I got everything I needed, and once in a while something I wanted. She helped me to understand the difference between a need and a want. That lesson is something I’m passing on to my child, even though she is growing up with parents that are more secure financially than either of us were growing up.
Now if you’re stressing over money, or the lack thereof, well I know that’s a hard issue to apply the word “choice” to, but you can. Despite the fact that the poverty level in the U.S. keeps rising along with the cost of living, so many people put themselves in a worse financial state because of their WANTS. The keeping up with the Joneses mentality often propels us into buying more than we can afford (from cars to homes). But the overwhelming want (vs. a real need) to have the latest technology or hot brand of clothing is a choice you can control.
In terms of your fitness – or the condition of your body – as I’ve stated many times over in my blog if you stay focused on your health instead of the pressure-filled idea that you must shrink from a size 12 to a size 8, then you’re more likely to succeed. Just make the choice to eat small healthy meals several times a day, while committing to 2-4 workouts a week where you break a sweat. That little amount of change can reap huge results.
As for children and their education, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that unless you have a child that is truly targeted for a career in law or medicine where attending Harvard or USC is paramount to their success, the average child can achieve a bachelor’s degree from your average four-year university (even if they start their first two years at community college) and go on to have a successful career in their chosen field even without AP Classes, Scholarships, or 529 Plans. Good grades and diligent studying can be enough – no one has to stress out about this starting in eighth grade (which believe it or not, many parents are doing – not to mention that they’re stressing their kids out too).
So the next time you feel overwhelmed by your stress levels, look at how much of that stress is coming from choices you’ve made because you WANTED to, not because you NEEDED to.