Is being stressed a choice?

I was reading on the Daily Stoic website and one of the posts talked about stress being a fact of life and that being stressed, feeling stressed, is a choice.

There has always been stress, life can be hard and harsh things happen that we have to deal with, but the idea from this post appears to be that we choose whether to feel the stress, to allow it to have power over our minds (and bodies).

Things to do are a fact of life. My endless lists and crammed calendar clearly show me that. So I looked at my life with the same lens and realised:


Overcommitting and feeling overwhelmed is my choice.


I’m over-committing and making myself feel stressed and overwhelmed. Back to the Stoics – the workload is a stressor but how I react, how I manage my mental reaction and how I choose my perspective on it is my choice. It sounds harsh because, well the truth can be hard. And I was living my own (self-made) hard truth.

I have ‘over-commitment-it is’, an affliction that causes stress, results in long hours and makes me cross that I don’t have time to do other (nicer) things.

I’ve always loved the thrill of a big event to organise or a problem to solve. I’m energised by mental challenges and delighted by the power of organisation, getting the right things in the right place at the right time to fix something. I love being busy and useful. And needed. I like helping, I like knowing things and being able to do things that help other people. But mostly I like the buzz of busy-ness.

Or I did.

I stepped out of the ‘rat race’ ten years ago after seven years of trying to be a ‘people person’ in investment banking and finding myself physically, mentally and emotionally drained. I wanted something different, something MORE. The space to explore and grow, time to read and learn, and opportunities to try new things. And more time to just be, to enjoy the present as much as, if not more than racing to the future and pitting myself against those enticing and increasingly dreaded deadlines.

In the intervening years, I realised some of my dreams – I visited Japan, left London for sunnier skies, created a beautiful garden and adopted a dog. I also engineered a complete, successful and enriching career change. And I love my life. I’m surrounded by a life I chose and made real.

So, how did I get to the point of feeling burnt out and being drained again?

It’s been a phase since last year when I adopted an ‘I can’t go anywhere or do anything because of COVID so I might as well work’ mentality. And I am aware that I’m very, very fortunate to have work available. In my line of business, it’s capricious, it comes and goes outside my influence so when it came, I grabbed on with both hands and did not let go.

But, ten months later after the adrenaline rush of being über busy has faded, I’m still working 10-hour days, waking up tired and feeling mentally burned out.

Looking out of the office window and realising spring was arriving and my garden would be a beautiful and fulfilling place to spend much, much more time, something needed to change, thought I.

So, I did something very simple. 

I stopped. I thought consciously about what I was doing and, more importantly, about why I was doing it.

I wrote two notes on very bright, impossible-to-miss paper and stuck them at the sides of my screen – ‘just say no’ and ‘my time is precious’.

They worked. Well, I like to tell myself they did. I took them down and showed them to clients to encourage them to take charge of their activities and define – and follow through on – best practice. I certainly put them into action and now plan my week in a conscious way.

Considering how, when and what to say no to can be a challenging but essential way to improve your productivity and effectiveness in both the workplace and life in general. Remember to give yourself permission and time to reflect on what you’re doing and WHY. And if you have a moment, read this post Taking The Time To Think to help you on the way. 

If you’d like help with creating a more stress-free environment while navigating your career path, get in touch.  And look at pictures of cute dogs to make you smile.

Email louise@careertherapy.co.uk
Linkedin Louise Newton
Photo Matthew Henry on Unsplash

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