Keep It in Perspective

Life is full of crises and stressful situations, and coping with them gracefully is part of maturity. Perspective is a tool that will help you respond properly to each crisis and stressor.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Sometimes we get in the habit of experiencing high levels of stress over relatively minor circumstances. How many times have you been worked into a lather about things that didn’t amount to much over the course of your lifetime? Can you even remember all the times someone cut you off in traffic, interrupted you in a conversation, paid you a backhanded compliment, bent the rules at a sporting event, or left a mess for you to clean up? You’ll significantly reduce your stress if you can learn to handle small situations calmly and move on without so much emotional upheaval. Learn to keep problems in perspective by asking questions like “Will this matter in a year?” or “Will I remember this event 10 years from now?” 

Resilience Skills

A broad sense of perspective — one which allows you to see your problems in a realistic scale — is part of the psychological concept of resilience. Resilience is a measure of your ability to handle adversity and recover from trauma or crisis. Other components of resilience include:

  • Having a positive view of yourself and your abilities
  • Being able to make and stick to realistic plans
  • An internal locus of control
  • Solid communication skills
  • High emotional intelligence and ability to manage emotional responses

This Stress & Well Being Survey “measures your stress-management, adaptability, resilience and emotional vitality levels.”

Improving Your Resilience

Would you like to be more resilient? Keeping a sense of perspective is one important key. The American Psychological Association’s article title The Road To Resilience includes this advice: “Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.” Among other things, the APA recommends that you nurture resilience in the following ways:

  • Make connections: The APA stresses the importance of good relationships, group memberships, and the ability to both give and receive help when needed.
  • Accept change: Change is part of life; learn to accept what can’t be changed and focus on situations where you can have an impact
  • Move toward goals: Develop realistic goals and find ways each day to take small steps toward your goals.
  • Take action: As much as possible, take decisive actions rather than detaching yourself from problems. 

The APA recommends choosing strategies that are likely to work well for you from the 10 suggestions offered in its Road to Resilience.

Perspective and Success

“Stress and worry are fueled by our own skewed perception of events,” writes Travis Bradberry in a leadership article for Forbes titled How Successful People Stay Calm. Along with advice on healthy habits, like avoiding caffeine and getting plenty of rest, Bradberry includes a lot of the same advice seen in resilience inventories. He writes, for instance, about having a strong support system and limiting negative self-talk. Bradberry also includes a section on perspective. 

“…before you spend too much time dwelling on something, take a minute to put the situation in perspective,” he writes. …”If you’re thinking in broad, sweeping statements such as ‘Everything is going wrong’ or ‘Nothing will work out,’ then you need to reframe the situation. A great way to correct this unproductive thought pattern is to list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out.” 

Questions To Keep Perspective

Here are some questions to ask yourself whenever you are experiencing stress.

Will you still remember this in 10 years? How important is this event in the scheme of your life? Is your response proportionate?

What’s the worst that could happen? If your doomsday propositions always end with “and then we’ll all have to live in a cardboard box down by the river,” challenge yourself to create a more realistic “worst case scenario.” Will you really lose your job if you’re late, or if you don’t land this client or complete this project on time? Or will you just be embarrassed and have to earn back your boss’s trust?

What would you do if the worst happens? Suppose your job really is at stake. What would you do if you lost it? Do you have any resources you can depend on while you’re looking for new work? Savings, big ticket items you could sell, family you could depend on? Imagine yourself coping with the worst that could actually happen, and create a plan for it.

Is it really happening? Human beings have an amazing ability to get upset over things they imagine. How many parents drive themselves out of their minds with imaginary scenarios when their teenagers don’t get home on time? The vast majority of those imaginary scenarios are just that — imaginary. All the horror those parents go through is entirely their own doing. The reality is only that the child is late. If something more traumatic turns out to be true, there will be plenty of time to be upset about it later; driving yourself mad over imaginary problems doesn’t prevent them.

Next time you’re experiencing a lot of emotion around a problem, whether it’s rage, anxiety, or stress, try stepping back and getting a realistic picture of the scale of the issue. Build a habit of seeking perspective and you can increase your resilience and slash your stress dramatically.