Stress Busting (Inspired by Dr Kelly McGonigal)

Have all of your efforts to remove stress worked? Have the thousands of pounds invested in stress management techniques paid off for your company?

If you’re serious about stress reduction, then probably the simplest thing to do is to put yourself in an environment where nothing ever matters and you can easily do everything that’s asked of you.

If the option of living in a performance world of no relevance doesn’t appeal, it’s probably time to start accepting that stress is part of any environment where ambition and achievement are commonplace. It’s time to start accepting stress and ensuring you’re getting all the positive benefits from it that are open to those willing to find them.

Reading time: 4 minutes

High performance headlines

  • If you’re ambitious and in an environment that is trying to achieve great things, then stress is a predictable  characteristic of that world – so don’t try and remove it.
  • Understanding how you can alter the physiology of stress allows you to work with stress and also remove many of the negative symptoms of stress experienced by people who fear it.
  • If you commit to becoming an expert in understanding your own capabilities and the specific demands of your environment, you’ll be in a great position to always have a really helpful attitude towards the stress in your environment.

The full viewpoint

“There is no such thing as good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.

Hamlet wasn’t talking about stress at the time, but his words are very useful for us when considering stress. Just say this to yourself and see how it feels – “Stress is not bad for me, there’s no reason for me to worry about stress.” For most people reading this, the instant reaction will be disbelief. The first thought will be, “well that can’t be right, I’ve seen all the data of stress-related illnesses.”

And that’s just the thing. There’s loads of data showing the dark-side of stress and it seems more and more likely that all of these people with the illnesses had one thing in common. They thought stress was bad for them. That’s a thought worth dwelling on. It has significant implications for everything that we do about our relationship with stress.

If you’re at all skeptical about the point, then it leaves you with a choice point.

  1. Think it’s bunkum and carry on worried by the potential harmful effects of stress.
  2. Buy into it as much as you possibly can, just in case there’s something in it and you can get some stress immunity.

Let us know which one you opt for.

Trust your body’s on your side – getting the butterflies in formation

Let’s focus on how to actually change your relationship with stress in some very practical ways, symptom by symptom.

The stress is too much! My heart is trying to burst out of my chest!

If you recognise this, then you’re probably not having a great relationship with stress right now (and the side-effects will be gripping you very soon!). We’ll get round to not being in such a heightened state in the first place soon, but if you are in this state, if stress is not harmful to you, then you’ll find it easy to think, “I’m up for this, the excitement and adrenalin has really kicked in – time to get on board with my body.”

I’m about to have a panic attack – look at how hard I’m breathing!

Again, another familiar refrain from the stress-head. If you want to re-interpret the increased breathing rate that we often experience when something important is about to happen, then this version of events might help; “I’m glad I’m getting extra oxygen in to fuel my brain so I’ll be thinking really clearly. Time to control the breaths so this really works for me.”

I feel really uneasy, just not settled, I can sense something bad is going to happen.

This is a great interpretation of stress that comes from fearing stress. It doesn’t take too much practice to re-interpret this feeling as follows; “This feeling always comes just before something important and it’s a great reminder to trust my plan and focus on doing the next thing as well as possible.”

Those three are definitely the most frequent symptoms to get ready to re-interpret and remember, if you know that stress is a thing that’s there to help you, then it’s a lot easier to really believe the reality of those new stress views.

Giving yourself an extra chance

The physical symptoms are worthwhile taking control over. If you take one other step, then the physical stuff is a lot easier to do. Here’s the simple steps you can take to build a strong foundation:

  • Think about the world you work in and the things that are important for you to achieve in the next few months.
  • Think about what this is going to mean for the frequency of important moments that are coming up and whether this degree of achievement is something you’re still willing to pursue and be part of.
  • Now think about all the times you’ve achieved similar things before and how you were able to achieve those things because of the skills, knowledge, expertise and character you possess.
  • Finally, balance up everything you know about your abilities that you’ll be using over the next few months, with the things you’ll need to be doing, and use this as the starting point for your relationship with stress.

When we talk this through with most people, they see they’ve got more than enough capability to meet the demands they’re facing, so whenever the stress feeling goes to a new level, it’s easy to remind themselves that it’s time to focus on using the stress energy to fuel the capabilities coming to life, rather than masking your ability to remember you’ve got what it takes to thrive.

From now on, you’re in a position to choose the level of stress you’ll feel and what you want that to mean for you when you feel it.

As ever, simple, not easy, but well worth the effort.