Stress! Everyone can relate to that overwhelming feeling. It creeps up on you at work, at home, sometimes even on your vacation. How can one impact this? How can one end the vicious cycle of stress?
As a Senior Program Leader for Landmark Education, an international training and development company, I lead courses for hundreds of people on a monthly basis. The people that attend our programs are there to create breakthrough results in the areas of their life that matter most, including career, relationships, and productivity. Each person brings his or her own set of life experiences to the course. However, one commonality that I often find among participants is that they feel STRESSED. They are stressed about their jobs, their kids, responsibilities, schedules, and on and on. Many participants, including extremely successful individuals, communicate that they sometimes feeling overwhelmed by what they have to deal with in their day-to-day lives, and they don’t know what to do about it.
In today’s world, it is clear that stress can have an enormous negative impact on people. It ultimately robs us of our ability to operate at our maximum potential and to enjoy life fully. When coaching participants about stress in Landmark Education’s courses, I often share the following ways to begin to interrupt the natural progression of stress:
Give yourself room. It is helpful to remember that it is completely natural to experience stress from time to time. When this happens, allow yourself time and space to experience just how you are being impacted. A natural response to serious events, or numerous events that require your attention at the same time, is to sometimes become numb or distracted. This takes away our ability to experience for ourselves what is actually happening. Reacting is natural. Be clear that there is nothing wrong in being affected by the events of the day. It’s natural to have reactions. At the same time, you do not need to be limited by them.
People need to create a distinction between what stress is and what causes it. Stress is not based upon outside sources but rather how we perceive a circumstance and then react to it. Observe your reaction. The key here is to react appropriately to “what’s really happening” rather than “overreacting.” How does one know if he or she is overreacting? You can begin by making a distinction between “what’s actually happening” versus “what you think about what’s happening.” Here’s an example: You are busy at your job working hard to make a deadline. Then, unexpectedly, your wife calls to tell you that one of your sons was stung by a bee and has to go the doctor and she needs someone to watch your other children. Your first reaction is to overreact: “It is always something, I can’t catch a break, my wife should have been watching the kids more closely, I am going to miss my deadline and my boss will be furious, etc.” Your stress and frustration begin to mount. This is when you must consciously decide to distinguish between a) what happened and b) what you are thinking about what happened. In that moment, you will see that all that is happening is that your son has a bee sting and needs to be treated and you need to find someone to watch your children. You will see that everything else is just part of your reaction. As your stress subsides, you will remember your neighbor and best friend is on home on vacation. You will call him and ask him to watch your children and he will accept. The crisis will be handled and your stress will disappear. When you recognize that you are simply reacting — perhaps even overreacting — you will expand your view and ultimately find additional power in the face of stress.
Another thing that I have noticed is that most people experience stress when they are feeling like something is out of their control. There are many demands and expectations that are placed on each of us, from others and from ourselves, and we often fall into the trap of mistaking these expectations as the way things should or must go. To deal with stress that results when our expectations go unfulfilled, we invite participants in our Landmark Education courses to try letting themselves be 100% present to a situation to watch the events unfold rather than trying to force those events to conform exactly to their expectations. For example, even if we know better, we expect people to do exactly what they say they will do by the time at which they say they will do it. Therefore, when people fall short of doing what they said, our unfulfilled expectations leave us upset and stressed. We may even blame them for our feeling so upset. This over reaction then leaves us stuck in the middle of how things should have gone vs.how things went. This robs us of the power to deal with what needs to be accomplished with the available resources at hand.
You have a say. While there are events in life that we cannot alter, one thing that always remains in our control is who we are going to be in the face of those events. Where are you standing regarding the events that are taking place? Focus your attention on what you are committed to -for yourself and others- and take action based on that. By doing this, you will experience more freedom and clarity, and your actions will make more of a difference.
Ultimately, when people experience stress, they are simply reacting to life not working out the way they want or expect. Becoming aware of what is really happening — separating what happened from our story or interpretation about what is happening — allows us to discover that much of what we considered already determined, given or fixed, may in fact not be. Situations that may have been challenging or stressful can become more fluid and open to change. We find ourselves no longer limited by a finite set of options, but able to stand committed, not stuck. This can create new levels of ease and enjoyment. You may actually surprise yourself and find areas in your life where you have said good-bye to stress!