How do you manage your triggers so that you don’t burnout, feel crippled by stress and anxiety or miserable with the whole experience?
There are several approaches to manage stress and develop coping strategies but most approaches have a short term impact helping us cope in the moment.
And whilst these techniques are certainly useful to learn, they are not sustainable in the longer term, and they don’t equip us to deal with the ever-increasing sources of stress.
So how can we upskill ourselves to be able to respond more effectively to this challenging landscape?
The key is to learn to adapt.
We need to alter our brain’s automatic response patterns and evolve the human mind so that something previously perceived as a stressor is no longer considered a stressor. If we do this, we experience less stress in the first place, negating the need for techniques to deal with it.
And the great news is that adaptability is a learnable skill.
Using a metaphor. Think of your capacity for stress (practically and emotionally) in terms of a stress bucket.
Stress can be triggered by events such as exams, conflict or work as well as how we have interpreted the situation as failure, criticism, rejection, unfairness etc.
The more stress-triggering situations you are faced with the fuller the bucket becomes, until it starts to overflow – shown here as stress overload.
It’s worth noting that there will always be certain things that will cause stress, this is not denying that fact. However, general life, including its daily challenges, should not be causing the levels of anxiety and stress that are being reported at the moment.
So what can we do?
This is particularly useful if you are feeling sensitive, vulnerable or you’re at the peak of your capacity for stress and need an immediate reprieve to rest and recuperate.
This is not so good if you don’t reflect on how you reached breaking point. Some people get divorced, change careers, move house etc only to find that the same situation arises again.
DEVELOP COPING STRATEGIES
Techniques that act as a valve to relieve stress that has built up might include:
- Meditation or mindfulness
- Grounding exercises
- Re-framing thoughts
INCREASE CAPACITY – build yourself a bigger bucket!
Techniques that build resilience or tolerance to stress might involve increasing the ‘load’ and using grit, willpower or support from others to ‘plough on’ through the stressful situation.
Whilst this technique avoids burnout it uses an immense amount of energy and might not be that enjoyable.
And finally, the GAME CHANGER – the long term sustainable technique that accelerates the evolution of the human mind:
Adapt how you perceive stressors so they don’t create stress. Here’s how:
- Notice your patterns – you can’t change what you’re not aware of. Log your triggers, emotions and responses
- Modify your patterns to suit the situation
- Reflect on results
- Repeat…notice, modify, reflect
The first three techniques are short term strategies, great for immediate relief and to provide a breather to rest and recover. The fourth technique is the game changer, as it helps you use your mind more effectively and consciously. You CHOOSE both how you perceive stressors, and how you respond.
By way of example:
A common stressor is TIME – lack of it, being late or even having too much time. Being on time is of course important, but being highly stressed by it is not necessary.
Someone who is highly stressed by time might manage their stress by:
- Allowing extra time
- Monitoring how long things take & managing the tasks closely or
- Avoiding situations that are time critical, such as those with tight deadlines or precise times
Whilst this ‘controls’ the levels of stress it doesn’t lessen the impact of time as a stressor. It may also lead to missed opportunities, poor decisions or less optimal results as well as being a real energy drainer, focussing too much attention on time.
Instead, work on adapting this pattern by shifting it little by little. Start with something unimportant where doing it on time really doesn’t matter. For example, you might cook dinner at a more leisurely pace or arrive at an event at the latter end of the arrival time. You will always be aware of time, but the intensity to be on time will start to lessen. The key is to stop trying to control your relationship with time and allowing it to control your emotional state.
Get used to the feeling that tells you to pay attention to time and use it as a signal, thank it, tell it you’ve got it and let it go.
I hope this inspires you to explore how you experience and respond to challenges and modify how you typically respond so that you feel less stressed, perform better and enjoy the richness that life has to offer.
Please share these ideas with others if you think it might help.
And if you need more inspiration, support or you’d like a sounding board, do get in touch with me at [email protected]
Until next time…