Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: A Stress Mindset Involving Values

Questions about the impact of life stress on time management was my original motivation for pursuing this summer's stress and time management study. This week I'm addressing a stress mindset that seems related to those very issues. 


Stress And The Meaning Of Life

According to Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress, in terms of the stress related to every day life (rather than the stress related to personal crises such as terminal illnesses or major human tragedies such as natural disasters and war) events and activities we find meaningful cause us the most stress. Child rearing, travel, school, friends, love, family all bring stress with them. Yet, these are all things most of us want in our lives.

Well, studies have shown that being able to think about these types of every day stresses in terms of our personal values, what gives our lives meaning, makes them become more meaningful and less burdensome. We are less likely to find ourselves in a flight (collapse on the couch/procrastinate)-or-fight (blood pressure rising/bang head on the wall) situation.

The Stress Mindset Intervention For Values

McGonigal suggests that when stressed, we go over our personal values and ask ourselves if we can connect our stressful situation to them in some way. Presumably if we can, the stress will become more manageable.

  • She describes some studies in which participants were given bracelets or key chains that they could mark with some value important to them that they could look at when stressed.
  • McGonigal says that writing about values has been shown to be "one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied." Writing about values makes people feel more powerful and in control. It also can be done once and show benefits months and even years later. (Many of the interventions she writes about have long-lasting benefits.)

A Personal Reservation Regarding The Values Stress Mindset

I can see how developing a values mindset can help with stressful situations in many aspects of life. The stress of childrearing, for instance, becomes manageable because of how important our children are to us. The stress of planning a trip and getting started on it becomes tolerable because seeing the world or some particular experience we're heading out to is important to us. School stress--We value that education, if not for itself than for what it will lead to. The same with work.

So long as we can see that the stressful activity will lead to something  positive that we value, we're headed for improvement. But what happens if we look to our values and realize that this stress isn't going to connect with one that's important to us? That the school or work stress no longer will get us to something we value? The stress of this relationship is no longer worth it?

I don't recall McGonigal addressing this issue, but my guess is that if you come to this kind of realization and get out of the stressful situation then that must be a good thing, too.

Values Mindsets For Writers

Being able to develop a values mindset may be of particular help to writers dealing with work stress. In fact, many writers may already have values mindsets.

  • It's not unusual for writers to focus on subjects that are of particular value to them.
  • Nonfiction writers, for instance, may specialize in writing about climate change, nature, and the environment. Historians may limit themselves to specific periods or regions. Or they may choose to write about groups of people whose past isn't well known.
  • Fiction writers may also have values they showcase in their work. Diversity, gender equality, faith issues, and climate change are all value-laden subjects fiction writers may focus on. 

For writers like these seeing stress through a values mindset which helps them connect their stressful situation to the values that give their work meaning to them can help them get through things like another draft for an agent or editor or the rigors of marketing.

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