“The greatest weapon against stress
is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
I have a regularly standing client meeting once a week. About an hour before that meeting I start to lose focus on all other tasks I have for the day. My heart begins to beat faster, my palms moisten and blood rushes to my face and ears in anticipation of the anxiety I am about to endure.
No matter how much I prepare for this meeting each week, I inevitably experience that overwhelming fear that sends my body and mind into a phase of debilitating stress.
The stress of this meeting has become such a part of my life that I expect it and give into it. I let it control me and set the tone for the meeting rather than I controlling it.
Change how you interpret your stress
Too often we let ourselves get beaten down by that physical reaction. We interpret it as worry and depression and let our guard down and allow the obstacle to consume us and stay in our way when what we should really be doing is using that increased heart rate and awareness to forge ahead and drive right through the obstacle in our path.
In her TED talk called How To Make Stress Your Friend, McGonigal says that changing the way you interpret stress is the first step in changing your body’s reaction to it.
“We interpret these physical changes as anxiety or signs that we aren’t coping very well with the pressure, but what if you viewed them instead as signs that your body was energized, was preparing you to meet this challenge.”
When you start to feel stressed about a situation, The normal physical reaction to stress is a faster beating heart and a constriction of the blood vessels. This action is what can actually cause cardiovascular issues with most people who experience many stressful situations throughout their lifetime.
If you think instead that the pounding of your heart is preparing you for action and your quicker breathing is actually getting more oxygen to your brain, then your blood vessels will start to relax and allow that increased blood flow to move more freely. Our body then starts to look more like it does when we are feeling joy or courage. At this point your body and mind are poised to tackle the stressful situation head on.
Build a support system
Also in her TED talk, McGonigal explains that stress causes a hormone called oxytocin to be released. This is the same hormone that is released as a result of giving someone a hug or a kiss. It encourages us to be more social which seems peculiar that it would be released when we feel stressed.
McGonigal argues that it’s your body’s way of telling you to seek support. Oxytocin makes us more social. When you’re stressed, your body wants you to be social which has been proven to reduce stress and actually help you recover quicker from this heightened state and build up stress resilience for future anxiety-causing situations.
It’s important to have a person or a group that you can reach out to for support when you are feeling stressed. It’s vital to your recovery.
It’s doubly important then if you see someone stressing out to reach out to them and offer a helping hand. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together and to survive the stress, we need to help each other rise above it.
Identify the next action
I can’t remember where I read this piece of advice, but it has stuck with me ever since and I apply to my work-life on a regular basis. It especially comes in handy with upcoming meetings but can easily be applied to any aspect in your life.
The next time you have a pending deadline approaching whether it’s a meeting, a presentation, a big trip, or a report you have to get out, ask yourself this question:
“Is there anything I can do right now to be more prepared for ________?”
If the answer is “yes”, then stop worrying and do that thing. If you can’t do it right this instant, write down what it is that needs to be done, save it in your calendar or project management system and set a time and date for when you will complete that next action. Then, stop worrying about it.
Often when we have a pending deadline, we waste valuable mental energy worrying about it instead of work on it. This exercise is meant to alleviate that worry. You want to find out if you can take a concrete action. If you can, great, then do it and stop worrying. If there is no next action and the next steps are not under your control, then just let it go and stop worrying.
Sometimes you’ll have prepared 110% and still be worried about the big presentation approaching. That’s okay it’s normal, but unless you can do something to improve the presentation or make the meeting go smoother, tell yourself there’s nothing more you can do and let go of that worry.
Ask yourself “why?”
I am a big proponent of the “Five Why’s” methodology for getting to the core of a problem. The philosophy is that it takes asking “why?” five times before the heart of an issue comes to light.
I’ve tried doing this with client situations and find that I always get to the core of the problem.
I’m stressed about the client call today. Why?
I’m worried I’m going to get yelled at. Why?
Revenue is down and I feel responsible. Why?
I’m not doing enough on their campaign. Why?
I don’t know what to work on. Why?
We don’t have a long term plan for success that matches their goals.
You know you are stressed and you know what is causing that stress, but if you don’t take the time to peel back some of the layers, you won’t uncover the heart of the stress. There is likely always a larger issue that is causing this anxiety on a regular basis.
You don’t want stress to go away. If there was no stress, we’d never feel challenged in life and we’d never better ourselves to tackle these tough situations.
Make stress your friend. Use these methods to manage and use it to your advantage.
- Interpret stress as your body helping you cope with the situation
- Reach out to someone to help you through your stress
- Identify your next actions on the thing that is stressing you out
- Reflect on why you’re stressed by asking the five “whys?”