Generally speaking, the more we develop ourselves personally, the lower our long-term stress levels. After all, discovering our life purpose helps avoid the stress of pointlessness. Developing better communication skills avoids many relationship problems. Improving time management helps avoid feeling overcommitted in day-to-day work. On the surface, stress management and personal development seem to fit together perfectly.

There are times, however, when personal development itself can get a little out of control – when it starts adding to your stress, rather than helping manage it. When that happens, you can start to find yourself showing more of the signs of stress (for more information on these, ask for a copy of our free stress audit questionnaire), instead of less.

So should we totally avoid personal development altogether if we want to keep a handle on stress? Not necessarily, but we may need to look at what development we’re doing and how it’s affecting our stress levels.


All personal development involves change on some level, and change is a major source of stress for many people. This means that, even if you’re trying to improve something that will eventually lower your stress level (e.g. time management or communication skills), it can sometimes act as a short-term.

There are four main reasons for personal development work causing, rather than curing stress:

– Too Many Areas
– Lack of Balance
– Unrealistic Expectations
– Going it Alone


Personal development can be addictive – who wouldn’t want to be the best person they can in every area of their lives? With so many areas we could work on, we often try to improve in multiple areas at once. For some people, this isn’t an issue. For others, however, the old adage “chase two rabbits, catch neither” applies.

If you’re working on improving two or more areas of your life and your stress levels rise, consider asking yourself, “Which area is most important right now?”, or, “Which area would improving make the most difference for me right now?” and then focussing on that area. Everything else will still be there waiting for you when you’re finished with the first one!


Personal development takes commitment and willingness to act. Sometimes, however, we exaggerate the importance of a particular improvement to the point that nothing else matters, and other areas get neglected. For example, if you want to develop spiritually, you need to take time out to do this. If you start ignoring friends or work demands so you can meditate to for hours each day, it may start causing stress.

Note that you’re the only one who can say what the right balance of “personal development time”. Some people might want to take weeks, months, or years out from the world for self-improvement. Most of us, however, want to integrate our development with our current lifestyles. If that’s the case for you, examine how much time you spend on personal development, and consider cutting back if appropriate.


It can be hard to create a mental image of how we want to be, then acknowledge how far we are from it now without blaming or getting angry with ourselves. In the same vein, once we have that clear image, it’s easy to believe that we’ll suddenly be able to act in accordance with it. If only it were that easy!

In reality, that habits take time to change, new skills take practice to implement, and little that happens overnight will last. If you’re frustrated because you’re not seeing progress (or not seeing it fast enough), remember self-improvement is a little like building a house. The first part of the work always happens beneath ground level – digging and then laying foundations. On the surface, it would seem absolutely nothing was happening. Yet if those foundations aren’t laid properly, the house itself will collapse. Personal development can be a lot like that.

If you’re frustrated by an apparent lack of progress, take a step back and ask yourself how realistic your expectations are. Talk to others who’ve made the same change – how long did it take them? What stages did they go through? While everyone’s journey is unique, you may find that hearing from others helps put things into perspective for you.


Of course, personal development is personal – no-one can do it for you. But you don’t need to deal with it alone. There’s enough support out there – in the form of communities, mailing lists, forums, and trained experts – that no-one should feel alone. Type “personal development” or “self improvement” into your search engine of choice and see what comes up. Alternatively, consider consulting a stress management coach.

© Tanja Gardner, Optimum Life Ltd.

Tanja is a team leader with the Internet’s #1 personal development website,

For a free 30-min consultation on how we could help you live your optimum life, please visit Or, for a copy of our free Stress Audit Questionnaire, please e-mail with ‘Stress Audit Questionnaire’ in the subject line
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