Dealing with the low-grade noise in your life

I was up early this morning, like most days. Unlike most days, one of the first things I did was open a window. It was drizzling with rain–a sound I welcome. On opening the window I was confronted by what I can only describe as a dull hum. It took me a second to place, but I quickly realized I was hearing the sound of traffic. A dull hum is a persistent low-grade noise that is always there, but that often fades out of consciousness. You don’t realize how loud it is until it goes away. Traffic isn’t the only hum in our lives, is it? What low-grade noise affects your life? How can you deal with it?

Low-grade noises come in all shapes and sizes. Some are important things that need to be dealt with immediately (financial planning, investing in your marriage), others are relatively minor issues that need to be managed and put into perspective (managing email). What is common to all is that they produce stress, which is often counter-productive, especially since it most often comes into our conscious mind late at night.

Pay attention to the dull hum, the soundtrack of stress in your life. If you ignore, it will go away for a season but over time it will deplete you and make you less effective.

Here are five ways to respond healthily to the underlying stressors in your life.

  1. Acknowledge underlying stresses, don’t ignore them. You might want to write it down or tell a friend. It’s important to get the stressors out of your mind and onto paper or into a conversation–it makes them more real and positions you to begin considering how to resolve the issue.
  2. Take some time in an unfamiliar location to reflect on them. It’s important to get out of your normal working environment in order to really deal with these underlying stressors. Sitting at your desk you have limitless distractions nanoseconds away. It’s human nature to resist dealing with the unpleasantness of stress by substituting some action that we justify as important. Those other tasks can wait–give yourself a couple of hours to really think through your stresses.
  3. Honestly evaluate what you can do differently. In most situations there are a lot of things we can do differently in order to better handle elements of work and life. Solutions could be as simple as blocking out time weekly to balance your checkbook and review financial statements. It may be as challenging as changing the internal narrative about your life.
  4. Honestly evaluate what cannot be altered. It’s important to realize that some things are not going to change, at least not in the short-term. Acknowledge this reality and try to think of ways to minimize the impact of those things.
  5. Invite a mentor to review or participate in discussing these things. It always helps to have another pair of eyes take a look at a challenge. Invite a friend or mentor to lunch and share your process of reflection and analysis and invite his input.

The truth is that we rarely grow through comfort. Growth involves stretching and pushing through old limit. Embrace the underlying stresses of your life as ways in which you have the opportunity to grow.

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