We all get stressed out. But are you letting stress get in the way of your success? Is it harming your ability to chase your goals, build stronger relationships, or holding you back from making progress? Well perhaps it’s time to reframe the way you look at stress in your life. Time to turn your stress signals into a positive!In life, you can’t control what happens, only how you respond. So how do YOU respond when faced with stress?
A recent Harvard Business Review post referenced a report in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that demonstrated how we can actually change the way we respond to certain stimuli. Like stress.
“Researchers have theorized that changing the way we think about our bodily responses can improve our physiological and cognitive reactions to stressful events.”
Mind over matter
We have all been told that dealing with problems in our lives is just mind over matter. While it is true, it’s also not that simple. In the report, the key differentiator is whether we BELIEVE we can deal with stress.
“When people believe they possess sufficient resources to cope with stressors they experience a challenge response, but when situational demands are seen as exceeding resources individuals experience threat.“
This is essentially our ability to be up for the challenge. Think about it. In my post How Leaders Deal with Challenges, I talk about the fact that when faced with stress, we can do one of three things:
In your life, it is all about preparing yourself for things to come. Expanding your comfort zone is one of the keys to long-lasting change.
It is not simply just putting your mind to it, but building your mental reserve over time, so that when faced with stress, you are ready. And sometimes we are just not ready. That’s okay.
Stress is GOOD
There are two ways you can look at stress.
- “Oh my god! What am I going to do?!!”
- “Okay, this sucks. Let’s see what is going on and how we can move past this.”
How often do you respond in each way? You can’t predict what’s going to happen, and many times people worry about things that are completely out of their control, causing more anxiety and worry. Stress is simply a signal that there is something you should deal with. I wrote a post last week about losing my motivation at day 56 of my 90 day blogging plan. There was a stress signal there, albeit a minor one, and I just stepped back and had a higher level look at things.
Likewise, when my girlfriend’s Dad was dying of Cancer, we had quite a bit of stress and challenges to deal with (as you can imagine). Each time a new challenge came our way, we worked on re-framing the way we looked at it. We re-focused on priorities. We checked to see if we could handle it ourselves, or if we needed help.
Use stress as just that, a signal that you need to take a deeper look at your situation. YOU are in control of your reactions and emotions. Take control and empower yourself to OWN them.
If you are stressed about money, don’t turn a blind eye to it. That makes it worse. If you are stressed about a tough conversation, then start to look at it deeper. the more you sit on stress and not deal with it, the worse it gets.
Your goal is to re-think your options and come at the problem from multiple angles.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James
How to deal with Stress
When you start feeling stressed, follow these steps, and hopefully you can change your perspective.
1) Acknowledge the stress signal
This is usually the step people miss. When you are feeling stressed, STOP and say, “Oh hey, I feel stressed. Let’s take a look at it!” Sounds silly, but it puts the power back in your hands. The stress belongs to you. And it is yours to do what you want with it. So stop and acknowledge it. The act of slowing down, even for a second, will actually lessen the stressful and anxious feelings. Ignoring it makes it worse.
2) Identify the real source of the stress
I am going to say that 99% of the time, the stress signal is not directly related to an isolated situation. There is usually more to it. If it was simple, it most likely wouldn’t be causing stress. Remember that when we feel we can handle it, we look at it as a challenge. So take some time and explore the cause-and-effect nature of the signal.
What is happening now? What caused this to happen? What could have prevented it? What did I previously ignore? Who else is involved? What would have caused them to react in such a way? And so on. Even writing down all of these ideas in your journal or notebook will help you see the problem oan bigger level. And this is the first step to ownership of your stress.
3) Examine your capacity to deal with the situation
Now that you have outlined the problem a bit more, look at your current ability to deal with what you are facing. But look at it from the lens of each individual part, not the entire picture. When you can chunk the big stress down into smaller pieces in step 2, then you can see your abilities much clearer.
At that point, you can see if you need to ask for help from an outside source. A friend, a colleague, a loved one, a coach, etc.
4) Explore alternatives
Now that you have looked at it more completely, it’s time to see if there are alternatives to dealing with the stressful situation. In the HBR article, the author tells a few stories from his coaching business on alternatives to challenges. Look at YOUR situation in the same way. If you are facing a tough conversation, instead of going into it with a battle mentality, how can you set your intentions to be more warm, caring, understanding, or even compassionate about the other person? Could you actually go into that discussion ON THEIR SIDE?
Look at all your options and see alternatives for each step. You will really start to feel in control and perhaps one option will to be to not have to deal with it at all. When you see the complete scenario, it might not be as big as you thought after all.
5) Make a plan
If you want to really reduce your stress, make a plan. One of the big causes of stress is people incorrectly setting goals. They put large targets out in front of themselves as resolutions and then don’t actually schedule all the activities to get to the goal. It is worse than not setting a goal in the first place.
If you don’t plan for it, how the hell do you think it will happen?
Same goes for stress. If you are in a financial pickle, you can’t wave a magic wand and fix it. You have to plan. You have to schedule. Then you have to do the work. It may take a few weeks, months, or years, but the steps add up. It all depends on the size of your problem, and how long you’ve been avoiding it.
Real stress basically comes from being unprepared.
6) Think big picture and long-term
Okay, so you know what’s going on, you have a plan, and you are ready to get started. But what will keep you motivated long term? Ask yourself what kind of person you want to be. One who can’t handle stress? Or one who looks at what life throws at them as a challenge?
In order to be the latter, you need to start dealing with your stress head on. The act of doing so, will make you stronger and decrease stress overall in the long run. It doesn’t mean you won’t be faced with stressful situations. It will just be that you don’t see them as stress. You see them as opportunities.
This may seem like a stretch, I know, but if you ask anyone who is successful how they deal with stress, they will tell you these same things.There is no such thing as stress. Only challenges and opportunities. There is no spoon.
7) Remember what REALLY matters
When we were dealing with my girlfriend’s Dad, even though that was very “stressful,” I considered myself blessed to be able to be there for people I cared about, and ultimately build and prove my character.
Being able to rise to a challenge is a characteristic that takes work to build and is not easy. That’s where you have a big opportunity. By being known as someone who can deal with stressful situations, you get to build a strong personal brand.
Remember that everyone gets stressed and you have the power to learn from stress and help others around you do the same. How can you create better relationships that respond to challenges? How can you and your loved ones be better equipped to handle what life throws at you?
Can you be the rock for those who need you?
By applying these ideas over the years, today I don’t feel stressed with most things. And at the same time, life is not easy. But it’s not supposed to be.