Am I too passive under stress? How to fix?
May 21, 2012 4:31 AM   Subscribe

Should I be someone who takes more action when I'm under stress? If so, how do I go about becoming that person?

Ok, so right now I am under stress - I got out of a job I hated to pursue a nerve wracking new venture, and I am living on a fixed budget in a tight economy.

Things have been fine, but my new, cheap accommodation turned out to be much worse than anticipated. We've had no end of problems with leaks and power cuts, the landlord is cheap, the building manager is lazy and the police have other things to do. There were red flags from the beginning and other people from the same building have moved out, but I have stayed. It sucks. I hate it here. But I still stay. I took a holiday, lived in lovely holiday accomodation (felt like paradise, did not want to come back) but I had to come back, and now I am still staying here. I know I should move out, but honestly, I have done almost nothing about making it happen. I feel like I can't be bothered moving or trying to find a new place.

I think I am often a person who, under stress, tends to put up with the situation rather than try to fix it, maybe waiting for the stress to pass. I guess I find it easier to control my own emotions and lower my standards than I do to be proactive and take action. I don't want this to mean that I end up getting exploited or miss out on good things. I don't want to become apathetic and lazy. But somehow I always seem to prefer doing nothing over doing something.

So my question is do I need to change this tendency to be passive in the face of stress? And if so, how?
posted by EatMyHat to Human Relations (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'm like that too. It's because "doing something" feels to me like added stress. And it actually is. However, it's often short term. In the case of finding a new place and moving, once done, your stress will diminish over all. But the key is to put the required attention into getting the new place. I have to wonder if you could have anticipated the problems with your current accommodations but thought the necessary scrutiny was too stressful.

How to "become that person?" You can't. You just have to do it as the person you are.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:46 AM on May 21, 2012

I don't know how to "become that person," but I think in your current situation setting small daily, or weekly goals will help. For example, one day the goal is just looks ant some new places on Craigslist (or wherever.) Next day contact two people, and so on. Instead of looking at it as this daunting task of Finding A New Place, just focus on completing each step along the way.
posted by catatethebird at 6:21 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a natural list-maker and loss-cutter. I don't feel in control of a situation unless I'm actually controlling it.

Where you stare into an abyss and suffer, I am plotting and strategizing about how to get out, I would feel like a caged animal if I couldn't.

Part of this is genetic I think. Stephen Fry said something really insightful about the people who came to America versus the people who stayed in Europe, those who came to America were risk-takers and those who remained prefered the devil they knew, so there may be a genetic component in the way Americans think. (My great-grandmother came here after pogroms/cossacks murdered her family, so I think she was done with the devil she knew--but I digress).

This calls for "fake it until you make it". Okay, so you're not natually a problem-solver, you're a wallower. You don't have to be, the science of cognitive dissonance can help you here.

I agree with catatethebird, force yourself to do specific actions at a specific time each day. For example:

1. 2:00-3:00 PM, search on various sites for new apartmetns/flats, flatmate situations.
2. 3:30-4:00, call and make appointments to see new options.
3. 6:30-8:00, go on appointments to see new options.

You get the gist. Break the task down into its component parts and allocate a certain portion of your day to accomplishing those parts. I find that as I tick the items off of my list, I get happy, because, you know, I'm accomplishing things.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:46 AM on May 21, 2012

I think you can indeed change your pattern of behavior. Your emotions might still be the same, but how you feel doesn't have to hold you back from taking action. Constructive Living really influenced me in this regard. Effort is good fortune.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:47 AM on May 21, 2012

You may find David Allan's concept of the "next action" useful. Sit down and think about what you'd like to do. In this case, change your housing situation. Now think of the next physical action required to move you toward that goal. This has to be an observable action - someone looking at you should be able to say what you're doing (so deciding, choosing, and thinking don't count, but brainstorming, researching, and contacting do). It also can't have more than one step - if it does, break it down further until you have just the next thing to do. This may be looking up apartment listings, calling a broker, talking to your landlord, etc. Now you have a simple, concrete thing you can do to make progress. So do it! You can repeat this whenever you get stuck.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:59 AM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

There is nothing morally wrong with deciding that there is a situation in your life that you are going to live with for a while rather than change immediately. We are all finite humans and we can't change everything.

With that said, it sounds like you haven't actually made this decision. Instead you are living with an intention to make a change but not actually taking action towards it. That only adds to your stress. I'll echo the advice of taking one step at a time. My suggestion for a first step is to write down what you care about. Just a free association of what motivates you. Give it a day to ruminate. Do it again if you feel the need. Next, write down your current goals for action. these can be big broad things like find a new place to live. Then write down some steps you can take towards those goals.

Be generous with yourself. If your goals for action don't align to what you care about most, then it is okay not to do those things. If your goal is a big change (like moving) then it is okay if you only take little steps for a while. Ragged Richard has some great pointers on how to take little steps. One a day, or even one a week may be enough to make you see that you are moving in the direction you want, even if it may take a while.

The goal is to be centered in what you really care about, take actions on those things and keep moving with your big picture objectives in mind even when the other stuff going on is throwing you curve balls.
posted by meinvt at 9:03 AM on May 21, 2012

I can be like this. I'll know what is stressing me out and I'll have at least an idea of how to fix it or move past it, yet remain inactive despite knowing how to improve things.

One thing that helps me is to start out with really, really small baby steps. I can't overemphasize the 'small' part. For instance, if I'm dreading a project for my volunteer coding group, my first step might be something as simple as just opening the code we have so far and reading over it once. After that, I give myself permission to stop. On a bad day, the first step might be as little as rolling my chair into my office and reading a book at the computer I use to do my coding on. But a large chunk of the time just doing that simple, tiny first step is enough to overcome my personal static friction and get myself moving and doing a lot more than I expected to.

So for moving, the first step might be as small as opening craigslist and reading through apartment listings for 10 minutes (as someone mentioned upthread). Or even just finding the proper craigslist subsite and bookmarking it. Then just try to build upon it.
posted by Arethusa at 12:11 PM on May 21, 2012

As the saying goes, "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice".

Do you tend to catastrophize?

If you tend to over-estimate the hassle, it can look like more work/stress to deal with the whole shebang than to just suffer one more minute. One minute turns into two, and before you know it, you've spent weeks or months in misery.

Find some way to disperse some of the stress. Do you have friends, family, or coworkers who can help you find new digs? Chopping up big tasks into small tasks also helps.

One thing I've started recently is to remind myself about my agency in the matter. Some situations you can wait out, but some situations take action to remedy.

Give a listen to Rush - Freewill while you're at it.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:19 PM on May 21, 2012

Thanks everyone! Some really good suggestions here! I hadn't really thought of it but I am tending to focus on the big picture of "should I move out or not" and I think I was getting too overwhelmed with all the options and all the effort involved in moving. Because meinvt is right, there is in some ways nothing wrong with choosing to stay (and I am the sort of person that can tolerate crap if I want to) and Ruthless Bunny suggests being this way might even be genetic (explains why the fail factor has to be so high before I'll do anything.)

BUT more dramas in the last 24 hours made me realise I should at least investigate getting something else. Or if not (as per bookdragnoess) I am effectively choosing not to move out, so I should lose the teen angst and stay already!

So baby steps...I i followed up on all your links and got on with it today - I've narrowed my search down to three main districts, put together a budget and 'must haves' list, found the essential websites to search on and sent off a bunch of inquiries regarding places I'd be interested in. I also found some short term options I could take to get some breathing space if I get desparate.

Thanks again :-)
posted by EatMyHat at 2:36 AM on May 22, 2012

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