How to Turn Bad Stress Into Good
Stressful times call for performing this Jedi mind trick on yourself
I just got back from my first conference in Pandemic Times. In the end, the event was rejuvenating. But the build up to my departure was exhausting.
Once a regular (maybe too regular) traveler for work, I hadn’t been on a plane since February 2020. My family had become very accustomed (maybe too accustomed) to having me around. Lying on my bed as I packed, my 11 year-old daughter wept at the very thought of my absence. Why was she fine being away from me for sleepaway camp, I asked her, but not alright with me being away for a conference for a few days? “It’s only OK when I leave you. Not the other way around,” she said.
We both giggled at her answer. I didn’t want her to see that I was as nervous about going as she was. My husband claimed the most worrisome issue was taking more responsibility for our new dog. No other family member had ever fed our pandemic puppy since we picked her up in January. What if she howled the whole time I was gone?
Of course, the biggest stressor hanging over all these silly familial concerns was Covid. Six hundred people, traveling from all over the world to congregate for buffet meals and in-person, unmasked presentations? Even with the requirement of proof-of-vaccination and a negative test, a gathering like this sounded like a recipe for a potential Delta disaster. Would I arrive only to end up quarantined in a hotel for weeks, thousands of miles away from home, like those Olympic athletes? What if I brought back my family novelty t-shirts and the virus?
With so many reasons to stay put (including the carbon emissions), I wasn’t sure this period of stressful anticipation was worth any professional growth allegedly waiting for me on the other side of the country. But rather than cancel, I decided I was being ridiculous. Millions of people were traveling. Stop making such a big deal out of one trip, I told myself. I shoved my stress down into my stomach and clenched it there.
This is straight-up bad self-management. There’s a better way to handle anxiety, rather than belittle our own feelings. We can coach ourselves to find a healthier “stress mindset,” as psychologist Modupe Akinola calls it.