Editor’s Note: This post was written by Katie McIntosh of The Katie Show Blog. To find out more about Katie, read her bio on our contributor page. Be sure to check out her blog and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
How to Manage Stress in a Stressful World
Life in our fast-paced world can be a little hectic, right? In one moment our phones are going off, bringing new e-mails to respond to, new problems to solve, deadlines to meet, unexpected meetings, trying to avoid creepy Dan from accounting, don’t forget to send so and so a birthday card, and exercise – note to self schedule an exercise class, wait did I pay the phone bill this month? Safe to say our stress levels are high!
In order to manage our stress, it is important to first understand that stress isn’t actually a dirty word. Positive stress– eustress– is a powerful motivator to help us achieve great things.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were under pressure but felt like you thrived? Perhaps you had an important presentation due so you did your research, practiced, got butterflies, then nailed it? That’s eustress in action. This kind of exciting, short term stress helps us to improve and overcome challenges.
Negative stress or distress, is the naughty little critter that sneaks into our lives and can be quite harmful to us. It puts significant strain on our bodies as well as causing anxiety, depression and overall decreasing our quality of life. No matter what, negative stress will always be with us. The key to achieving balance in our lives and getting through stressful situations is learning how to manage this stress.
In recent years I have been told that I am good at keeping a cool head in stressful situations. I can assure you that it is not built in, I am very sensitive and have a quick temper. The key I have learned over the years is how to manage these flaws. So today’s post is dedicated to sharing what I have learned about managing stress in the hopes that you can learn from my mistakes.
Since stress is so subjective, you need to first take a long look at yourself in search of understanding. You are your own best teacher and once you can figure out yourself, the rest is easy. What situations cause you negative stress? There will probably be a theme with those situations that will unlock how you can overcome it.
For example, you might be constantly stressed that your workload is too high and you can’t get on top of your personal errands though when if you look at the theme, perhaps what is actually causing your stress is your own time management. Look beyond the surface. How do you react when under negative stress? In what situations do you experience eustress?
Understanding yourself is the most important place to start because most of our problems are caused by our own reactions to situations. Once you understand how you react, then you can overcome. Like I said, I have a pretty quick temper and in my first serious job I had not understood any of this yet. I used to be so fiery, stressed and all round not fun to deal with.
I was always in conflict with someone and it should come as no surprise that as a team we didn’t get very far thanks to the hot tempered leader. It wasn’t until I understood my triggers and reactions that I could learn to manage them, which is something that has improved with time and practice.
Do These Stressors Need to be Here?
Now we are going to separate the stress we need to manage from the stress we create. From step 1, you have your list of stressors, let’s take a look at how many of those actually need to be there and identify things we can control. You would be surprised at how many stressors we actually choose to keep in our lives.
For example, money is a common stressor but the issue usually comes down to our own inability to live within our means. Debt is a choice we make so changing your choices by sticking to a budget can significantly reduce that stress!
Have you ever been in stressful situations where everyone seems panicky and you say ‘stop, just breathe’. That’s exactly what this is!
One of my high school teachers taught me how to dramatically change your mood by altering your breathing pattern and it is a trick I still use to this day. She taught us to breathe in 1 count, hold 1, out 1, hold 1, in 2, hold 2, out 2, hold 2… etc. and go all the way up to 8 and back down. Granted, in the middle of a tense meeting you can’t exactly stop and do the full 1-8 breathing pattern, but in that meeting you can focus on breathing in 2, out 3 to help keep your cool.
There is actually a science to all this so let me put my white coat on for a moment. When you are in high stress situations, your blood goes from the thinking part of the brain to the feeling part, so in these moments you are just running (i.e. speaking) on pure emotion. It’s why people say crazy things ‘in the heat of the moment’. Changing your breathing pattern sends the minions in your brain back to the thinking side so you can get back on track and be a little more rational. Super scientific, I know!
Focus on the Outcome
What are you trying to achieve? Being outcome focused can help keep you on track and working towards an end state instead of getting lost in the mix.
Maybe you have an angry customer in front of you, steam coming out their ears and veins popping out of their head. The world as we know it is seemingly coming to an end because they want a refund. The outcome in this situation is to find a compromise both parties agree on.
In these situations, keep compromise as your focus and work toward that instead of focusing on their anger or taking what they say personally.
If we all focused on the outcomes we want we probably wouldn’t have family feuds at weddings, out of hand arguments in meetings, interfering in-laws or customer service interactions like the one in the example.
I recently worked a high stress event at my last job and the moment the pressure hit, it felt like everyone lost their minds. There was a lot of ‘they did this’ and ‘they did that’ tempers flaring and blame shifting. There was not a lot of ‘ok, what’s the issue, let’s fix it’ and that’s all that was needed to actually solve the problems – that and maybe a few deep breaths.
One Step at a Time
Sometimes it seems as though everything comes in at once and you are left with a huge insurmountable mountain in front of you. We can easily be overwhelmed with our ‘to-do’ lists, projects or even when a deployment seems like forever. The easiest way to manage this is by breaking it up into smaller pieces and taking it one step at a time.
Let’s use the deployment as an example, however long it is might seem like a lifetime apart. Instead of the doom and gloom of all those months, take it one day at a time. If you view it as being apart for a long time it seems like forever. View it as being apart for today and that’s easy!
In the workplace, perhaps it seems as though you have a million things to get done all at once. Just make a list and get through one at a time and before you know it you will be done!
I hope this helps gives you some tips on how to manage stress, or at least gets you thinking a little to find your own answers.
Did the mouse get on the wheel? Let me know your lightbulb moments by
sharing in the comments below.
Until next time,