My Stress is an Inside Job

May 27, 2022

When I was applying to college, I imagined my future stress levels in college. There would be no more schooling to apply for (since I probably wasn’t going to apply for graduate school), and needing to do well in college admissions was the source of stress for me at the time. So, I hypothesized, college would be less stressful.

College was not really less stressful.

A couple weeks ago, at the end of last semester, I was dying for summer to come. On the other side of school and finals lay the summer — with a job, yes, but no school for a couple months.

The summer has not been as stress-free as I thought it would be. I’m starting to think that I’m the problem.

In fact, I think it’s clear that I am the problem. In both cases, school or my job aren’t really actually stressful. I’m enjoying my job a lot so far.

But it’s a bit like Parkinson’s law: the idea that work expands to fill the time allotted. But instead, it’s that my stress expands to fill a given space, no matter what is going on.

It seems that my brain is to blame, not the outside world. I quickly jump to anxiety-producing scenarios (with work, that’s often around anxieties of not working enough or producing enough), even when the real signals in the world around me don’t warrant it.

I think it might be the feeling that I don’t want to let people down.

A couple years ago, I created a tiny app for sending email newsletters that had a handful (I had small hands at the time) of paying customers. The responsibility of making sure that emails went out the right way, to the right people, stressed me greatly.

But that little app wasn’t really as important or stressful as it felt. None of it ever is, looking back.

So I wonder whether there’s a way to fix the root problem — me and the way I experience things — rather than looking for solutions externally. That’d be pretty handy.