Lana Barhum, freelance writer, has lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008. She uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness.
I have experienced many struggles in my years of living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia. And I have spent too much time and energy worrying about things I had little control over—some related to my illnesses and others not. But once I was able to accept the reality of my situation, it because easier to live a happy and fulfilled life and not sweat the small stuff.
Little stressors, big effects
Stress is hazardous to your health and could lead to heart disease and increased chronic illness symptoms, among other things. It doesn’t really matter whether that stress comes from major life events or minor everyday inconveniences—but the small stuff hits us more often, so it might take the greatest toll on our health.
Research from Oregon State University suggests that older, stressed-out men have a higher risk of premature death. Other research, reported by the University of Maryland Medical Center, shows that even moderate levels of stress may increase blood pressure, adversely affect the immune system, and cause cognitive issues such as memory problems.
Some people get worked up over small stuff like traffic jams, misplaced eyeglasses, or a child tracking mud in the kitchen. While little things shouldn’t make us feel angry, sad, or frustrated, sometimes they just do. Knowing that overreacting could harm your health may motivate you to stop letting such small stuff get the best of you.
How to stop sweating it
There is enough unavoidable "sweat" in my life simply because I am chronically ill. I have learned to put things in perspective so I won’t pay too much attention to the small stuff. There's always bigger stuff that needs my limited time and energy.
Here are some of the things I have learned that helped me to stop sweating the small stuff:
Worry wisely. No amount of worry can change a situation or solve a problem. But this stressful emotion can be used to your advantage. Worry helps me anticipate problems and prepare for them in advance. It also spurs me to find ways to deal more effectively with the small stuff. Not only does worry focus my attention on what I need to resolve, but it also leads to taking action and resolving problems so I don’t have to stress about them later.
Be wise with time. I have learned to prioritize. if I set schedules and prepare to-do lists, I can efficiently focus on the more important stuff and worry about less important things another time. It’s too easy to let small stuff take up so much of our time that there aren’t enough hours left for the big things that really matter.
Think positive. I know that thinking positively brings more happiness and less stress to my life. In the past, I often allowed myself to feel overwhelmed and defeated. I would say things like, "No matter what I do, I cannot make everyone happy" or, "Why try? I don’t have the energy anyway." Such poisonous thoughts only made me sad, angry, and depressed. But I know now that I can always choose to cultivate a positive attitude even when life isn’t perfect. I can put myself first, praise myself, and stop sweating the small stuff. Now, whenever a difficulty comes out of the blue I remind myself that my day is still going pretty well and that I am doing my best.
Be grateful. Chronic illness came into my life at a time when I thought I had everything in order. One day, I found my life suddenly trampled on by RA and fibromyalgia. After that, any talk of gratitude would fill me with anger. But if I wanted to stop sweating the little things, I had to first stop dwelling on how unfair life can be and to recognize how truly blessed I am in many ways. I am learning to be at peace with my life and circumstances and I no longer take anything for granted.
Learn to forgive and be forgetful. I have had to let go of people who I loved because they brought toxic emotions to my chronically ill life. I try to forgive and forget the hurt they caused. Forgiveness is difficult, especially when others aren't as forgiving. But forgiving minimizes my stress and anger, enabling me to focus on my present life and needs. Whenever I feel particularly angry over a past situation, it helps me to write down those feelings. Then I can let them go, rather than rehash them over and over in my mind. There is little I can do about the stress brought on by others, so I just try to dismiss the "sweat" they bring.
Choose to let go and be free
Life will always have a certain amount of major problems, disappointments, and worries to face. Chronic illness often adds to all that. But it’s important to remember that so many things we allow to stress us—like getting stuck in traffic—are only small stuff. They don’t deserve the power we sometimes give them to upset us. We can deal with these little everyday irritants without letting them get our goat. Chronic illness already complicates our lives; it’s time to let go and be free of the small stuff.
What have you learned about not sweating the small stuff in life? We’d love to hear your thoughts and advice. Add a comment below.