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I banned the word ‘stressed’ from my vocabulary and this is what happened

I wanted to stop being stressed, overworked and overwhelmed so one day, I simply made a choice to stop saying the words. What happened next was surprising.

I banned the word ‘stressed’ from my vocabulary

Image: Eric Koelma

By Grace Koelma | Dare List Mama

Back in 2003...

When I was in year eight, my Geography teacher called me 'his little worrier'. He had been teaching for the better part of three decades, and was a gruff teacher on the exterior, but a big softie inside.

Mr Jacobs* would often pull me aside as I was leaving class, and tell me not to worry so much. It must have been written all over my face. 

Granted, some of that worry may have been due to the fact that I was being bullied a fair bit, and felt like I had to dumb myself down in class so I wouldn't be picked on by the class clowns. But, you know, nothing the next kid wasn't worried about either, right?

Since that day, I have always secretly considered myself a worrier, and worn it like it was a badge of honour, a heavy burden I will nobly carry, if you will.

*Not his real name.​

You see, stress and worry is glorified in our society.​

The media feeds our fears with negative, hyped up stories. In the world of digital news, I know for a fact that news headlines are intentionally engineered and crafted to 'get clicks' and to generate a strong response in us (most often fear or anger). News outlets live off controversy. 

During this past decade's growing trend of 'infotainment': the news is packaged as cheap entertainment that will appeal to the lowest common denominator.

In my years spent as a newsroom journalist, I've seen editors who discuss at length the headline that will sound the most extreme, usually with a terrible pun or pointless alliteration. Accurate presentation of the facts is just not considered. Don't believe me? Just watch all three (incredible) seasons of The Newsroom.

All this breeds a culture of fear.

A culture where stress and worry are gradually replacing a measured and informed opinion on world events, political or otherwise.

A culture where we work ourselves in the ground and then when people say we're working too hard, we sigh and tell them how much we love our jobs. #tiredbutbusy

But enough of the preamble.

Let me tell you about that time I dared myself to eradicate the word stress from my vocabulary.

DARE: BANNING THE WORD 'STRESSED'

It started when Eric caught me telling people I was stressed, worried and tired for the thousandth time, and he decided it was time for an intervention 'dare-vention'. Eric dared me to eradicate the word 'stressed' (and its synonyms 'worried' and 'tired') from my vocabulary.

"But I'm tired and stressed!" I protested. "Am I meant to start lying about how I feel?"

"You don't have to lie," he told me. "Just reframe how you feel. Choose other words, a more positive spin. You'll be surprised at the power the words you speak have over you." 

I was doubtful it would work, but a dare is a dare. So I accepted.

INSIDE THE DARE

I have always struggled hugely with negative self-talk, and after years telling myself that I was stressed and tired - even when it felt warranted during events that were actually stressful - I had a strong pattern embedded in my neural pathways. This was going to be a tricky mental habit to crack. 

It took a few attempts to consciously change my language. It's like when you get your Learner driver plates, and suddenly you're noticing L plate vehicles everywhere. Suddenly I was hyper-aware of how many times I used those words to tell people about my day.

I'm a competitive person by nature, so I took to this dare quickly because essentially, I was in competition with myself: self control and thoughtful responses were pitted against my habitual response.

THE BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT

Once I recognised how often I almost said the word 'stress' (or its synonyms) to describe how I felt, I worked hard to change my phrasing and tone when people asked me how I was.


Because we were making so many big life changes (moving out of home, quitting jobs, uprooting our family etc) we were getting asked this question A LOT.

And not just in a general, 'how ya doing?' kind of way, but in a 'tilt-of-the-head-I'm-worried-about-you' kind of way. I am a WYSIWYG kinda girl, so I didn't want to pretend everything was fine.

I find the relentlessly chipper attitude of 'optimists' annoying, as it seems as though they're not in touch with reality. I would consider myself a realist, so I decided to acknowledge the person's concerns (we knew it was a crazy time) and spin it to sound more positive.

Instead of reiterating how tired and stressed I was, I started responding in a light tone with something like: "yeah, we are doing a lot right now, and putting steps in place to free Eric from his corporate job so we can travel the world. It's a season where we're working hard and doubling-down, but it's all worth it!"

THE FOLLOW UP

In the next few weeks following Eric's dare we crammed in a lot of events that would have been a typical trigger for the words 'stressed' and 'tired':

  • We cleaned our whole house top-to-bottom
  • We held three open-homes to seek a tenant
  • I started a new part-time job writing for a parenting website
  • Eric handed in his resignation and finished up at his job, while also completing the final stages of a website for a client
  • We ran a stall at a homeschooling expo (just two days after our magazine stock arrived from China, after significant delays)
  • We moved all our stuff (and our toddler!) in with our parents
  • We faced unforeseen and exorbitant import costs on our magazine which blew our budget through the roof

And I was amazed at how, through it all, just eradicating the words 'tired' and 'stressed' from my vocabulary changed how I felt about the changes in our life.

Instead of feeling weighed down and overwhelmed, I chose words like calm, happy and grateful to describe how I was feeling.

Within three weeks of decided to rent out our property we'd found a tenant and were moving out (selling them half our furniture in the process!) Eric had quit his job and was a few weeks away from being home 24/7 and more involved as a Dad. There was a lot to be grateful for.

I can't explain how or why, (this shift in thinking was hard to get my head around at first), but once I saw the instant improvement in how I felt about the changes, it was an overnight change for me.

I figured that if I - someone who'd been telling myself I was a worry-wart since the age of 14 - could use self-talk and intentional vocabulary to help me sail through a set of huge life changes that would usually have rocked me to the core, then this mindset was something I had to adopt permanently.

So I've banned the words 'stressed', 'worried' and 'tired' for good. Now I'm on a roll I need to start on my next banned words list!


Now I dare YOU to try it...​

Are you a classic worrier who feels overwhelmed often? I dare you to eradicate the words 'worry', 'stress' and 'tired' from your vocabulary, and see how you feel!

And I'd love to hear how you go, so please get in touch. 🙂





Grace Koelma

Grace is a writer, designer, digital nomad, mum (otherwise known as toddler chaser), slow traveller, wild things appreciator, culture immerser, coffee opportunist... She frequently uses big words (some of which are definitely made up), likes long walks and even longer books, and her focus on wellness in 2017 means she is learning to obey her FitBit. Except when she's glued to her computer!