Your heart is pounding. You don’t have time to catch your breath. Emails are piling in and the phone won’t stop ringing. Not to mention the weather is crap, you haven’t had a coffee yet, the buses are on strike, traffic is bad and you have a growing to-do-list. Outside of work you have other responsibilities to take care of including looking after your young family, planning your wedding, getting work done before holidays, taking care of ageing parents, dealing with a health crisis, mounting debt or maybe you are going through a bad patch in a relationship.
Any combination of these everyday life events on any given day results in a feeling of upset, being overwhelmed, overstretched, and a lack of time to get everything done. Add to that the fact that everywhere you look the literature tells us that stress is toxic, bad for you and results in poor health. Now it seems that you are not even allowed to feel stressed! But the bottom line is that you do feel stressed and you don’t know what to do about it. Already stretched for time, you need simple interventions that work.
So, what if you asked yourself a new set of questions about stress? Have you ever wondered if all stress is bad for you? Or is it possible that some stress could actually benefit you?
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal from Stanford University has a view. After years of research, she argues that not all stress is bad for you, harmful to your health or that it is best avoided. In fact, McGonigal suggests (and uses rigorous research to prove it) that there is an inextricable link between meaning and stress. In order words, you don’t stress about things that you don’t care about. As such, it’s impossible to create a meaningful life without encountering, experiencing and dealing with stress.
Take a moment to think about this. It’s a big mindset shift!
Ask yourself, would you feel stressed at work, about your family, about a big life event or a troubled relationship if it wasn’t important to you? Would you worry about it if it didn’t carry meaning for you? The likely answer is no. So, why is this the case?
The reason you experience stress is because you care about the event, the person, the relationship or the circumstances. And while you typically cannot change the stressor, you can change how you deal with stress by changing your relationship with it.
So the next time you feel stressed, rather than trying to ignore it in the hope that it goes away, stop for a single minute. In that moment give yourself permission to follow these simple steps to help you cope with stress more proactively, to take charge of it and to feel a sense of control:
- Remind yourself that you cannot always control the stressors in your life.
- Acknowledge that the stressful event has happened and that it is real. Take the feelings that you have and think of them as your body giving you energy to deal with the stress.
- Before springing to action give yourself time to think. Go the bathroom, leave the building or go outside. Whatever works for you, just take some time to yourself.
- During this time consider all of the potential solutions, skills, resources, ways or ideas that you have for dealing with the situation.
- Seek information, help or advice from the right person/people. This is vital as not all stress is equal and some stressors are more serious than others, and requires professional support to cope.
- Use that advice to take proactive steps to overcome, remove, manage or change the stressor.
- Consider what you have learned and put plans in place to deal with it better in the future.
These seven steps amount to a mindset shift that has the power to positively impact your relationship with stress. By altering how you think you take control, make proactive choices and learn through experience. In fact, emerging research shows that feeling stressed occasionally followed by planned progressive action is actually good for your health. This is called eustress or ‘good’ stress. The end result is personal growth that builds courage and resilience.
So the next time you feel your heart pounding and your breath begin to quicken, think of it as your body preparing you to meet and overcome a challenge.
Adapt a flexible mindset by accepting that it is perfectly normal to feel stress, that the feelings are proof that this is meaningful to you and follow the seven steps outlined above.
By Sinead Brady