Reframing Your Relationship with Stress
Stress is essential to living. Even amoebas experience stress. If you had zero stress, you would merely exist. And while “being more, doing less” is an aspiration, too much of anything is not healthy. Of course we know that too much stress can be hazardous. This said, I invite you to embrace a new attitude toward stress. Take the opportunity to transform your kneejerk response to stress from one of worry into one of growth, opportunity and strength.
Henry Ford said, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”. Ironically, this is true when it comes to how you compartmentalize stress. If you think stress is bad for you, it will be. For a clearer picture, invest 14 minutes in watching Kelly McGonigal’s empowering TED Talk about stress. Then, explore the topic further with me.
Resources For Reframing Stress
The study McGonigal shared, which tracked 30,000 adults in the US for eight years, started by asking people, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” It also asked, “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?” People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43% increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress was harmful to their health. People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.
But enough is enough. After a while, chronic stress wears you down and can be dangerous. It’s important to check in with yourself to consider if stress is becoming “too much”. A 2020 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association signaled a growing national mental health crisis during the pandemic. The takeaway: If you’re stressed, you’re not alone. Furthermore, there’s help waiting for you. Consider seeing a licensed therapist during this stress-inducing time.
While performing your emotional check-in, consider this story of stress and ask yourself how often you “put down” your proverbial glass. Once you’ve assessed your current situation honestly, get strategic about putting down that glass more often. Or, to use DRIVEN’s favorite “corporate athlete” analogy, how can you refresh your energy throughout the day?
Advice From DRIVEN Clients
I invite you to consider some of DRIVEN’s favorite approaches to managing stress during this unprecedented chapter in our lives. These have a track record of being effective client favorites:
- Visualize physically putting stress on a “shelf of emerging emotions” during your workday.
- Journal about what’s contributing to your stress. The simple act of naming stressors can mitigate their effect on you.
- Indulge yourself in at least 15 minutes of self-care each day. This does NOT mean catching up on social media, but instead reading a (funny) book, meditating, taking a brisk walk, calling a loved one, or having a bath.
- Implement a transition ceremony at the end of your virtual workday before you re-enter “home life”. This could include:
- Taking 2 minutes to write down three things you’ve done that day to forward your goals.
- Taking 2 minutes to consider the most important work (or “big rock”) you attended to. Skim this DRIVEN article for inspiration.
- Performing this 3-breath meditation. It will bring you to the present and prepare you for your evening, whatever it may entail.
Calibrate Your Habits and Practices for Resilience
They’re not sexy, but quality sleep, frequent exercise and proper nutrition help manage stress. These essential practices add to your sense of wellbeing, and in turn, inspire you to respond instead of reacting to stressful situations. Take it further by managing caffeine intake, developing a mindfulness practice and keeping a gratitude journal. These may seem at first like putting a Band Aid on a broken leg, but they are scientifically proven to mitigate stress. And they’re free!
Lesson Learned, Technique Developed
I was blindsided last week while delivering a virtual workshop on managing stress. It got off to a rocky start as half the participants arrived in the wrong virtual room. Then, after I led the group through a quick meditation and ran through my objectives for the coming 90 minutes, I received a private direct message from the organizer informing me that the session had been scheduled for only 60 minutes!
I took a deep breath and I imagined myself looking at the situation from a balcony to gain perspective— a technique I often invite clients to use. This allows some immediate space from the challenge at hand, and invariably prompts other options to appear. By zooming out, I could chisel down my presentation on-the-spot to the most important points, determine how to use follow-up to cover the missing material, and swiftly reign in my inner critic.
I let the participants in on that little episode as I was sharing the “zoom out” analogy. In retrospect, this was a fortuitous fumble, as the group got to witness a smooth recovery.
After the workshop and before my next delivery an hour later, I got to take care of myself and reflect upon what happened. My inner critic was still sitting on the shelf of emerging emotions, so I had full access to my self-compassion, my prefrontal cortex, and my growth mindset. I felt emboldened as I considered how my good habits and practices had prepared me for the situation. I reframed stress as “having the ability to surge ahead in times of crisis”.
Wow! The corporate athlete trains for the sprint and then recovers! As long as we let ourselves recover while maintaining a strong base, stress becomes our ally. Share how you are recovering from the daily stresses of current life! We’ll share more client favorites each Tuesday throughout March. If you’re game to share and/or you’re not subscribed to our weekly message, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with the appropriate subject line.