Stress. Whether you wear it physically or emotionally, it is never a pleasant state of being. Stress announces itself in a variety of forms. Some may recognize it physically with the onset of symptoms such as tense shoulders, a racing heartbeat, or a migraine headache. Others may notice stress with the emotional cues of feeling insecure or unsafe. Still others may spot a stress attack with a change of habits, such as poor eating or an irregular sleep schedule. Sometimes we can anticipate the arrival of stress, while other times we hardly know we feel stressed until it’s too late to prevent it.

In particular, there is one thing that intrigues me about stress: As unpleasant as it is, many of us are strangely committed to it.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I see it often. People will come to me to help them eradicate — or at the very least, manage — the stress in their lives. Yet, after we’ve spent some time understanding how their stress developed and the meaning of its stay, the time comes to make some changes that will help reduce or eliminate it. Here, people often resist freedom. In part, this is because change is difficult. The brain prefers what it knows. But what really makes stress difficult to let go of are beliefs about what stress represents and what it means about our identity if we let it go.

When we believe that we are worthy from the start, we feel free to pursue our true purpose instead of feeling the need to let stress prove we have purpose.

I know because this is my struggle, too. As much as I loathe feeling stressed, I wear it like a badge of honor. And what I’ve realized is that I cling to stress because I fear I am not worthy unless I am busy. I maintain an overbooked schedule because it makes me feel needed and successful. To give up the sensation of feeling stressed, for me, would be to give up feeling significant.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in this lie. We tend to believe that worthiness is earned and is the result of a full life. But the truth is that a fulfilling life is rooted in the belief that we are worthy before we begin. Accomplishments and titles may result from our gifts and talents, but they don’t add anything to the value we have already. When we believe that we are worthy from the start, we feel free to pursue our true purpose instead of feeling the need to let stress prove we have purpose.

Not only is our commitment to stress making us miserable, it also won’t work. If we are waiting to feel accomplished or achieve one more goal in order to feel worthy, we are going to be waiting a long time … probably forever. The satisfaction we dream an accomplished goal will bring is short-lived or never comes; these titles and accomplishments will always be insufficient in defining our uniqueness and value.

You are more than your résumé. You are more than your busy schedule. You are more than your social calendar. The belief that your identity can be summed up in your agenda will only lead to more feelings of insignificance and maintain stress.

Understanding your relationship with stress can help you reduce its presence in your life.

How have past events and relationships shaped your beliefs about stress?
Our beliefs don’t develop in a vacuum. They are always formed in the context of relationship and story. Reflecting on the painful moments and relationship dynamics that have shaped your view of stress can help you understand your relationship with stress in context.

What are the specific beliefs about stress that are maintaining its existence in your life?
When we experience difficulty ridding ourselves of stress, it’s best to start with asking ourselves why we need it to stay. Understanding what it means about our identity and empowerment if we were to let go of stress allows us the opportunity to speak truth into the lies we carry.

What is the message you want to give yourself about your identity and empowerment?
Once you have identified the lies, we have a responsibility to be truth-tellers and give ourselves a different message about where our value and empowerment comes from. Are we worthy from the start or do we need to prove our worth? Are we empowered to make choices in our life or are decisions dictated by outside pressure? Answering questions like these with the truth will make all the difference in letting stress go.

Are you ready?

Do you feel ruled by stress in your life? What truths do you need to start telling yourself in order to let some of that stress go?

Image via Sara Tasker


  1. “But the truth is that a fulfilling life is rooted in the belief that we are worthy before we begin.” This quote resonates with me so deeply. I’m not exactly sure where it came from, but my whole life has been based on the fact that I can only be worthy if I’m constantly being productive, effective, and efficient. This used to apply in most areas of my life like work and school (school was definitely the hardest to deal with); and now that I am trying to focus and grow my photography business and creative ventures, I hit a wall. This wall is formed with fear of failure, but the crazy part is that I built this wall. I am literally blocking myself. How crazy is that!? I really loved this article, and how it addresses stress tied in with our idea of self-worth.

  2. This article really resonated with me. Sometimes I find myself feeling guilty for having a spare moment to just sit, relax and watch a TV show. I feel like I constantly need to be doing something productive in order to be working towards something meaningful, but this can only lead to more stress and anxiety. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  3. I see what Alyssa means and often take on too much myself. After reading this article, I see how much I let what I want to accomplish and succeed at in life determine who I am as a human being instead of already seeing that I’m pretty great. I read a post a few months ago that focused on writing down everything you’ve accomplished this year instead of writing New Year’s Resolutions. It’s something that has helped a great deal and I found I had accomplished A LOT more than I thought. Realizing this made me understand that I have a lot I still want to do, but I’ve also come a long way.

  4. There is no doubt that I am ruled by stress. My parents, friends, and even myself tell me to stop taking on more, yet I find value in my life based on the length and detail of my resume. Academic and professional accomplishments are how I define myself. My problem is that as I continue to take on more, I rise to the challenge but I sacrifice my overall happiness and satisfaction with each new task. It is a vicious cycle that will only stop when I give myself permission to say no and take some time off. Unfortunately, I don’t think that time will come until I completely break down. I am making a conscious effort to do less, but it is difficult when you know that doing more is always possible with sacrifice. I still don’t know what my truth is with regard to stress; I constantly vacillate between wanting it to stop and craving it even more. What is a girl to do?!

    Alyssa J Freitas

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