Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stress Less! (another way to happiness)

I was talking to someone a couple weeks ago about some of the things that tend to stress me out. Ballroom dance came up, because it's really been where I've experienced some fantastic highs and devastating lows in the last two years. After taking a couple classes, I fell in love with dancing: I really enjoyed it, believed I could do it with enough work, and wanted to learn more and become a good dancer. The stressful parts are these: consistent trouble getting partners (particularly for competitions) and not successfully completing any auditions yet. Now that I'm a ballroom dance minor, both of these are crucial to completing the program. Getting good grades in the classes isn't hard - getting into the class at all is the hard part!

The person I was talking to suggested that maybe a ballroom minor isn't what I'm supposed to be doing, and that's why my auditions haven't been successful yet (or, the possibility that I'm just being tested to see if I'll be persistent). Sometimes we think we know what we want to do with our life, and God has different plans in mind that will make us even happier. My decision coming out of that meeting was to stop stressing over whether or not I could complete the minor. I can still perfectly enjoy dance by taking non-audition classes and going to clubs, without worrying about making teams or being successful in competitions. I'm not going to give up on finishing my ballroom minor, but I am giving up the stress I've attached to it. 

Sometimes stress has its uses. For example, I'm more motivated to study for a test when I have less time and more pressure to do it. But the kind of stress that frets, wrings its hands, feels powerless, and is fearful is the stress that we need to minimize and get rid of. What good does it do us? The only way it affects the results is to make us too distracted or afraid to give something our best effort. It certainly won't improve the outcome to surrender to that kind of stress.

How do we rid ourselves of negative stress? We need to confront it and let it go. One thing that we talked about in that meeting was that oftentimes, these stressors come down to insecurities and basic needs. If we can face the real problem, the symptoms (such as stress in particular situations) will be resolved more effectively. Another way to reduce stress is to simplify our lives a bit. In a fantastic talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, he explains that when life gets complicated and hard to bear, the best response is to focus on the essentials - on what really matters - and to let some other things go. One of the great things I've discovered in life (and that many, wiser people discovered sooner than I did) is that when you do the most important things first, life feels more steady. Specifically, when I put obedience to Christ first, everything else falls into its proper place, and I feel much more relaxed and confident in what I'm doing; it enables me to push off from a sturdy foundation and do the other things that I like to do as well, and I can go much further than if I'm trying to tread water in the middle of an ocean of "things to do." It really works :)

If I'm too busy stressing out over things, I don't have time to be happy. So one of the keys to happiness is realizing what you do and don't have control over, choosing what's important, and, trusting that Christ will take care of you, act on that trust and let your excess worries go. Jesus Christ understands and wants the best for you; He won't do anything that won't help you. As we come to understand that truth and cultivate our relationship with Him, our happiness will increase.

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