Thursday, January 27, 2011


I was recently talking with a friend about some problems he was having at work. These problems were not new, and they had been causing him a great amount of stress for quite awhile. I asked him what was the reason behind him not taking action to resolve the problems and his reply was "I have no choice".

This is a phrase I hear quite often from people who are experiencing stress or overwhelm in their lives. They honestly feel that the situation that is contributing to their stress is one over which they have no control. It is being forced upon them and they have no ability to respond or to do something about it. In other words, they feel they have no choice in the matter. Well, the good news is, yes you do.

Many people who are experiencing anxiety or stress confuse having to make tough choices with having no choice at all. In the case of my friend, he has several choices including confronting his manager and colleagues about their behaviour, setting boundaries, or looking for a new position. But these actions are not easy to take. For my friend, at this point in time, the amount of time and energy that would be required to put them into action is too great. It is an easier choice to stay where he is and to remain stressed.

I remember a conversation I had with another friend a couple of years ago. This friend had undergone treatment for cancer several years before and the long-term effects of the treatment made it necessary for her to have a colostomy. During that conversation, she mentioned that she had no choice but to have the surgery. This really upset her. She didn't want to have it but she felt that there were no other options open to her. After listening to her, I gently pointed out that she did have choices. She could choose to not have the colostomy and spend the time she had left in peace and comfort. Or she could choose to have the surgery and lengthen her life but have to put up with the complications that it would cause. It turns out that consciously, she had never realized that the first option was possible. To her, it was unimaginable to make that choice so it did not exist. But to have it pointed out to her that she actually did have a choice, and that she had, unconsciously, already made it, brought her a certain amount of peace. She no longer felt as though the decision was out of her control.

Can you think of a situation in your life right now that you are putting up with because you feel you have no choice, even though it is making your life stressful? Now ask yourself, "in an ideal world, would I put up with the situation?" If your answer is "no", then you do have choices. They are just tough ones and you are choosing not to take them into consideration. It helps to enlist the help of a coach or a trusted friend to help you to identify what your choices are and to support you in the action that you choose to take. You do have the personal power to change your situation, if you choose to.