You know stress is bad for you.
You probably even know you have too much of it. But what you don’t know is that most of your stress doesn’t come from external sources like deadlines, job hunts, and mortgage payments.
Most of the stress that people deal with these days is entirely self-generated and internal.
The stress that most likely affects you day in and day out is based on your mindset, outlook, and mental habits. This is especially true for women, who tend to chronically multi-talk, compare themselves, self-criticize, and put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to be perfect.
Despite being less obvious, the following sneaky internal sources of stress are often the most potent for destroying your health, your happiness, and your peace of mind.
1. Negative body image.
2. Dismissing your emotions.
Many people have been taught to reject, suppress, ignore, or otherwise not deal with their emotions. But emotions are natural and biological, and they need to be felt, and to move through you, in order to appropriately discharge. Dismissed or suppressed feelings also increase exponentially in force and power (like a dam), until you’re living with the constant fear that if/when those floodgate opens, you will surely drown.
3. People pleasing.
Trying to make other people happy is one thing, but trying to make other people happy at the expense of your own happiness is quite another. Chronic people-pleasers tend to feel a lot of pressure to make the people around them happy at any cost. They often take on extra projects, say yes to things they want to say no to, bend over backwards to make other people comfortable, and exhaust themselves or make themselves sick because they spend so little time and attention on their own needs and health.
Self-criticism is anything negative you say about yourself. It can come in the form of bonding with girlfriends by bashing your body, telling self-deprecating stories or jokes, attempting to be modest by rejecting compliments, and saying things like “I suck at this,” and “I’m the worst.” Most people would never say something as mean to someone else as the things they to themselves every day.
5. Negative self-talk.
This is self-criticism that you say to yourself in your own head, and it’s often significantly more dramatic and unkind than anything you would ever dare say out loud. Negative self-talk gets especially dark because there is nobody there to hear and refute your statement, so you’re more likely to accept it as truth. For example if you miss your friend’s birthday, to your friend you might say “Ugh I’m such a bad friend, but…” while to yourself in your own head you say “I’m a horrible person and this is why nobody will ever love me.”
6. Being inauthentic.
Pretending to be someone or something you’re not adds a whole other layer of responsibility to your shoulders 24/7, and keeps you from ever being able to let your guard down and live fully in the moment. Being inauthentic also often comes in form of “impostor syndrome,” which is a persistent fear of being found out for not actually being as smart, pretty, or successful as people think you are.
7. Keeping people out.
You may think this sounds easier than letting people in, but you actually have to work really hard to create and defend your emotional walls. Also, anyone who has built these kind of walls lives in fear of someone eventually breaking one down or climbing over it. Nobody builds intense emotional walls against other people from a place of peace and serenity.
Comparing yourself to someone else, favorably or unfavorably, creates stress. Trying to determine who is better or who is “winning” reinforces a scarcity mindset in which there is only one “right” way to have a body or be a person, when in fact we are each completely unique and there is no objectively better or right way of being.
9. Black and white thinking.
When we’re triggered into a flight-or-flight response, we must make quick snap judgements about whether something is “good” or “bad.” This makes sense evolutionarily, because when you’re in danger in the wild, you don’t have time to weigh the options; you have to make snap decisions! But in real life, we should be able to have access to all the nuanced shades of grey in between. Living with black-and-white thinking (or “all-or-nothing” thinking) reinforces scarcity and danger.
Putting stuff off leaves it hanging over your head until it’s done. We usually procrastinate in the hopes of enjoying a break from the activity we’re putting off, as though it was an indulgent behavior of self-care, but it actually creates a significant amount of stress and anxiety. Procrastination can include anything from not answering emails right away, hitting snooze, and putting the gym off til after work. Putting these activities off might seem insignificant, but it causes stress to grow exponentially.
Perfectionists are often extremely hard on themselves with critical self-talk, and they hold themselves to a significantly higher standard than they hold other people. They also fear mistakes, fear the negative results that they’re sure would come if they relaxed their standards even a little, have trouble being flexible, and set themselves up for frequent disappointment with unachievable expectations.
12. Negotiating with yourself.
Negotiating with yourself over a decision is draining and stressful. This is similar to procrastination, but is specific to putting of making a choice. Whether that means deciding if you’re gonna take that new job, deciding where to vacation, or deciding what to order for dinner, leaving negotiations open means there is stress hanging over your head until you decide.
Catastrophizing includes both making something out to be a bigger (and more negative) deal than it really is, as well as looking into the future and predicting all the dramatic and negative events that will take place. Some people think that catastrophizing helps them “prepare for the worst,” but more often than not it simply teaches you to imagine, search for, notice, and live in fear of bad things happening.
People tend to “should all over themselves,” essentially adding a sense of urgency and guilt to an activity or behavior they haven’t done and may not do. This keeps them from being present in the moment or enjoying the decision they’ve made, and causes them to feel they deserve punishment before any action is even taken. Many people cling to the idea that by maintaining “shoulds,” they are effectively motivating themselves, but the opposite is usually true.
15. Scarcity mindset.
Having a scarcity mindset means you believe there is a lack of adequate resources to go around, such as a feeling that there is never enough time, money, success, beauty, or love. Scarcity often comes in the form of comparison, like when you see someone who is really successful or beautiful and you start to feel less successful or beautiful, as though her success or beauty somehow detracts from yours because there is a finite amount. The scarcity mindset sees the world as a sum zero game, and therefore it places you in direct competition with everyone, all the time.
Guilt is an emotion that stems from the thought that you have somehow caused someone else’s misfortune, whether or not that is true or even logical. Taking responsibility for something you have done wrong can be very useful and noble, but more often guilt is used simply as a way of self-criticising and punishing yourself with bad feelings, because you feel you “deserve” to be punished. Guilt and “shoulds” are very closely linked.
17. The busy trap.
Being extremely busy is often a matter of pride, despite it being linked to being less productive, less present, less happy, and less healthy. How many times have you answered “so busy!” when someone asked how you are? Busyness is a way of justifying stress, and it makes people feel important. But no matter how busy you actually are, the feeling of stressful urgency and chaos in an inner state, not an outer one.
18. Social anxiety.
People on the internet are obsessed with proclaiming their introversion with pride, but many people who identify as introverts are actually just socially anxious. Of course being around people is draining (i.e. the definition of an introvert) when the idea of small talk, messing up social etiquette, or being judged or criticized by others makes you to feel anxious as hell .
19. Physical tension and holding.
Many women hold their bodies in a way that they deem to be “more attractive” or acceptable, for example by holding in their bellies, or sitting and standing in a way that minimized their jiggle and squishiness. Any major muscle holding, tension, or tightness disrupts movement patterns, blood flow, and breathing habits, creating and exacerbating stress and anxiety.
20. Not completing the stress cycle.
We call fight-or-flight a “response,” but really it’s a cycle. Everyone knows your body evolved to react to a threat by pumping certain hormones and changing blood flow to help you survive. But not everyone knows that after you’ve either killed or escaped your threat, your body is meant to go through the final stages of the cycle: releasing the excess energy, and returning to a fully relaxed baseline to heal, repair, rest, and recover. Due to the chronic nature of most of our modern “threats,” most people skip the final stages of this cycle and therefore neither release the extra energy, nor fully relax and recover.
A meta-emotion is how you feel about your feelings. People have often been taught to view their feelings as crazy, dangerous, or bad. Therefore they feel shame, or anger, or judgement about the existence of their own emotions. They might feel guilty about feeling happy for example, or angry that they feel jealous. This not only adds an extra layer of negativity and stress to those feelings, but it also causes those feelings to seem even bigger and more powerful and dangerous.