Stressed? Try These Three Fixes
Change. Sometimes it is thrust upon you. Sometimes you actively seek it. And change, even positive change, is inherently stressful. Add to that the constant demands from the various hats you wear in life—demands from work and family and friends and even your own body—and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by stress.
Stress, however, gets communicated. When stress sends you into survival mode, it changes your breathing pattern, which in turn affects your voice tone. Everyone within the sound of your voice can sense exactly how stressed you are. In addition, your breathing patterns and stress levels are contagious, especially when you’re in a leadership position.
Sometimes, people purposefully try to add weight to their message with a stressed out voice pattern. They hope that a little harshness will convey, “This is serious!!” Unfortunately, fight-or-flight breathing, while great for running away from bears that are trying to eat you, is not great for problem solving, creative thinking, focused work, or conveying credibility. Communicating and spreading stress doesn’t help the situation at all! Manage your stress so that you and those around you can think clearly and take action.
If your stress levels are consistently too high, here are three things you can do:
This is the one you hear about all the time. Everyone from your doctor to your secretary to your yoga instructor to your granny tells you constantly to reduce your stress. And yes, sure, by all means, cut out unnecessary sources of stress all you can. If you need to, reduce your workload, your responsibilities, and the number of claims on your time and attention.
But in certain seasons of life, it’s not always feasible or desirable to chuck your sources of stress. When you’re moving across the country for a great new job, do you just say, “This move is too stressful! Forget the whole thing!”? Or if you’re up all night with a newborn baby, do you send her back to the returns department? When conflict pops up in a relationship, do you decide you’re done with people forever? Of course not. (Hopefully.)
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” As long as you’re living, there will be stress. Eliminate the things you can, but don’t aim for a completely stress-free life. It’s impossible and you’d be bored to tears anyway. Look for what money coach, Shell Tain, calls “pockets of peace” in your day. Fully appreciating a moment of peace or joy can go a long way.
Sometimes getting stressed is a habit. In fact, it might be more than a habit. It might be an integral part of your identity! We place such high value on work, busy-ness, and even exhaustion that “stressed” just comes with the territory. How will people know you’re important and busy if you aren’t stressed?
Reject stress as a way of life, as an identity, or as a measure of success. When you’re feeling frazzled or upset, ask yourself, “How important is this really?” If it’s not something you really care about, the answer is simple: Let go. Still work hard, focus, and try your best, but let go of the angst.
Awhile back, I found out that I had offended an acquaintance. For hours, I bounced back and forth between feeling angry over the false accusation and feeling distressed that I had inadvertently hurt someone. When I finally stopped to consider all the agitation going on in my head, I almost burst out laughing. Why am I so upset over this? I wondered. It’s NOT that important! At that point, I was able to let go of the stress. I still worked to clear up the misunderstanding, but I could do so without fretting about the outcome.
When you refuse to worry, you can access your confidence and courage.
Sometimes, when you ask yourself, “How important is this really?” you realize that the source of stress is extremely important to you. Maybe the outcome affects your health or your career or people you care about. Then what?
Kelly McGonigal, in her book on stress, states that simply acknowledging the fact that you care can change the way you experience stress. Instead of feeling under the gun, you will feel like you are fighting for something that’s important to you. That changes the way your body responds to the perceived “threat,” helps you think more clearly, gives you energy, and stimulates the production of adrenaline for a little extra help to get you through.
Recently, I had one of those days where work, home, and social commitments all converged on a single calendar date. It was full steam ahead all day long. In the evening, I was hurriedly preparing to attend a dinner party and I found myself snapping at my kids. I stopped. Why am I stressing? I asked myself. All of these things I ‘have to’ do today are for love! I love my work. I love my family. And I love the friends I’m going to see tonight. Reframing my tasks suddenly made me feel excited, instead of stressed. I practically waltzed through the last preparations and didn’t snap at anyone again—without even trying! I had more energy and enjoyed the evening instead of feeling like it was just one more thing to do. It changed my communication.
This concept applies to nervousness, too. When you’re up in front of a group, doing one of the things that people fear the most—public speaking—it’s natural to feel a little nervous. That’s just another word for “stressed.” It simply means you care. And that’s a good thing! Caring about your message, your audience, and your reputation will help you do a good job. Remind yourself where that stress is coming from, and instead of hindering you, it will help. You’ll speak with energy and intensity, but without the edginess that comes from fight-or-flight.
A life with NO stress is a dull, meaningless life. In fact, studies have shown that a complete lack of stress leads to depression. No stress means no significance. You can’t have a fulfilling life without a little difficulty now and then. Instead of bemoaning your stress, or using it as proof of how important you are, use it as a barometer for how meaningful your life is.