How many times in a day do you feel annoyed? My guess is it would be more than one.
High-intensity negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and annoyances amp your nervous system and drain your most important resource: energy.
Have you ever noticed on days when you feel especially annoyed that at the end of the day you’re completely exhausted? Which begs the questions… is all of that annoyance worth it? Does getting upset protect you from being wronged? Or does it just drain you in an unproductive way?
Over the past 10 years I’ve spent four and a half of them going through intensive cancer treatment. Dealing with such a major medical problem inevitably came with a whole slew of inconveniences and annoyances: appointment scheduling back-and-forth, insurance issues, misunderstandings with doctors, etc. (not even counting fearing for my life on a regular basis).
What I learned early on was that getting upset at everything that could be upsetting was a waste of my time and energy; I was so sick that I just didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to fight every annoyance that was happening around me when I was already fighting for my life.
I remember one time, shortly after I was diagnosed with lymphoma the first time, I had a family member drive me one of my doctors’ appointments (and I was so fortunate to have so many family and friends who helped me out during this time).
We checked in and waited for the nurse to call me in. And waited. And waited.
It may have been an hour or two later that my family member, knowing how ill and exhausted I was, started getting upset on my behalf.
“The system should be better than this! Cancer patients shouldn’t have to wait so long! It shouldn’t be this way”
She was right; in an ideal world doctor’s offices would be more efficient and patients would get seen on time. I also knew from my experience as a physician that all of the staff were doing the best they could, trying to give everyone the time and attention they needed and under their own stress. So I reassured my family member:
“Look, it’s okay. Yes, this is annoying. There are people here who are being inconvenienced, but I’m not one of them. I’m not working right now, and I blocked my whole day for this appointment so I don’t have anything else to do. If we wait, we wait. We’ll get seen and make it home eventually and everything will be okay.”
It wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight. It was annoying, but I chose in that moment not to be annoyed at it.
We are all dealing with a lot of inconveniences and annoyances in our lives right now — spending more time under one roof with our significant others and family, adapting to an entirely new way of working from home, and managing expectations with family and friends who may not share the same opinions about COVID as we do.
But I want you to know that starting today, I am giving you permission to not react to everything that is upsetting.
You don’t lose anything by standing down on some of the battles that come your way. In fact, you’re actually building your resilience by protecting your emotional capacity and energy. It’s a freeing feeling when you realize you can let certain things go. So remember this:
- It’s okay not to get annoyed at everything that’s annoying.
- It’s okay not to fight every injustice that happens to you.
- Your strength doesn’t come from your reactivity — it comes from being able to choose which battles you want to fight. When you have the power to choose, you may find that many aren’t worth fighting at all.
At this point you may be thinking, “But Elana, it’s so much easier said than done!” To that I say… yeah. It is. It will take you practice and patience, as it did for me.
I regularly use a mindfulness technique called “STOP” when I feel a moment of reactivity coming on and need to let go. You can read more about how to use this technique in my blog post, Caught In Reactivity? How the Acronym STOP Can Help You Find Calm.