The Stress Illusion: Defying the Lies that Make Work Harder than It Needs to Be

by Allison Graham, on Nov 17, 2023 3:03:01 PM

Allison Graham presenting the closing keynote "The Stress Illusion" during the 2023 Accelerate! Conference & Expo

The transportation industry is under enormous pressure. This reality can lead to very stressful days for those involved - both on and off the roads. Every day may feel like a constant juggle between rising costs, changing regulations, increased customer demands, and having too much to do with too little time and too few resources. Add into the mix a traffic delay and a personal struggle or two, and it’s obvious as to why burnout rates are at an all-time high.  

At first glance, it’s easy to describe this working environment as being inescapably stressful, but I’ll challenge that premise. What if, instead of swirling in the overwhelming stress of it all, you redefined your relationship with stress to embrace it? This can lead to feeling a greater sense of control, even when you must navigate so many issues that are outside of your control.  

Over the years I’ve found that when I, and others, shift our perspective about the challenges faced, streamline problem-solving skills, and release personal patterns that make life harder than it needs to be, then it’s possible to feel more peace within a chaotic world.  

I didn’t always believe that to be true. I felt like my mood and my mental health were at the mercy of whatever problem I faced that day. It wasn’t until my health challenges forced me to get serious about fixing my stress levels that I realized most of my anxiety and overwhelming stress were self-inflicted and unnecessary.

Realizing that I was making life harder than it already was, was the first step. Stopping my stress-creating patterns, well, that was a bit more difficult.  

My journey led me to believe that the way we are taught to best deal with stress is fundamentally flawed. I refer to this as the Stress Illusion. Despite people being more educated about how to live a healthy lifestyle and there being a greater acceptance of conversations about mental and emotional health in the workplace, stress levels continue to rise. I believe that mainstream stress management advice is failing us and here are some reasons why:

We need to focus less on managing stress and more on creating less of it in the first place.

Stress-management experts suggest we adopt healthy lifestyle practices to manage our stress. I call these the critical six of stress management: rest/sleep, exercise, nutrition, self-care (such as mindfulness, meditation, quiet time, and hobbies) optimism and laughter, and quality social connections.

There is no denying these are requirements for a well-lived, happy, and healthy life. These activities make it easier to maintain a busy schedule and deal with challenges when they arise. They will also release stress hormones that have already fired. However, to significantly reduce the amount of stress we feel each day, it’s important to build skills to be resilient, problem solve quickly, and maintain an objective outlook. 

We’re taught that we’d feel better if we weren’t stressed, and that’s not true.

Stress serves many very important purposes and without it, most high achievers would feel bored and uninspired. In my stress redesign model, I identify three types of stress. Empowering stress is what inspires us and focuses us to do our best work. We can leverage that to maximize our performance, productivity, and profitability. Survival stress is our instinctive response that indicates that you or someone you love are in danger. It’s vital to our safety and there is no way to escape it. Then there’s destructive stress. That’s the kind of stress that feels overwhelming and, I agree, when there is less destructive stress in our lives, we definitely feel better.

We expect that when we get through this hurdle or to the end of a to-do list, then our stress will decline, but it won’t.

I call this When-X-Then-Y-Thinking. If we believe we must wait for circumstances to change before we address our stress levels, we’ll be waiting a long time. One problem is typically replaced by another and there is always more to be done.  

It’s not necessarily the work we have to do that causes the overwhelming stress; it’s what we feel, what we think, and how we behave in relation to the work we need to do that does. It’s these three tiers of human experience that cause destructive stress: emotions - when misplaced; storylines - when unnecessarily negative; and habits - when they act as a barrier to optimal performance.

You can see this process unfold in day-to-day interactions. Strong emotions that are valid for one issue in our lives can often be misdirected to something unrelated. The stories we create about a situation can often default to being negative; and the habits we wrap around daily activities are often set on repeat and aren’t always designed to empower our best work. This is the plight of the human experience and it’s what gives dynamics to our life – sometimes that’s good, sometimes it makes work even harder than it needs to be.   

We are bombarded with advice that doesn’t honor the human experience.

How many times have you heard one-liners such as: ‘Don’t take it personally.’ ‘Just let it go.’ ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.’ ‘Time heals all wounds.’ ‘Don’t focus on what you can’t control.’

The intention behind these bits of advice is well-meaning, but the application of them often backfires. It’s easy to feel guilty that you can’t just ‘shake it off’ when you’re focused on something over which you have absolutely no control. Yet, what impacts our hearts, minds, and livelihood the most? It’s the stuff that’s out of our control. To ignore that is to deny reality. Instead, finding healthy ways to process the biggest issues, and then implementing solutions that are within one’s control is the path to empowerment.  

Thankfully, the conversation around how to best deal with stress is shifting. It’s my observation that people are no longer willing to accept that in order to have success they need to sacrifice their mental and emotional health.

When I spoke at the 2023 Accelerate! Conference and Expo in Dallas, Texas, I went deeper into these concepts. If you’d like to book a time to have a conversation, please drop me a note at and we can arrange a time to say hello in person.

Allison Graham has presented workshops, breakouts and keynotes at the Women In Trucking’s Accelerate! Conference. She is fiercely committed to crafting and sharing resources that show ambitious professionals how to achieve success without sacrificing their mental and emotional health. A celebrated keynote speaker, consultant, and author, Graham is dedicated to empowering individuals worldwide to reassess their relationship with stress to not just manage it – but to stop creating so much of it in the first place.

Graham is the author of several books, including 'Take Back Your Weekends: Stress Less, Do More, Be Happier’ and will soon release her next book ‘The Stress Illusion.’ Her ground-breaking insights and innovative tools have not only won her acclaim within industry circles as she’s works with some of North America’s most respected brands and influential associations, but also garnered the attention of national and international media outlets. You might recognize Graham from her appearances on Global Television, CBC, Fast Company, CTV, and Breakfast Television, to name a few. She also has been featured on the Women In Trucking Show on SiriusXM with WIT Founder Ellen Voie.

To stay connected and access her insights of wisdom, follow Graham on LinkedIn at and join her weekly Lift Up by visiting

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in articles within the WIT Blog are those of the authors/submitters and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Women In Trucking Association.

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