In my last blog ‘Stress Makes Us Stupid’ I explained how a little stress goes a long way to improve performance, but that too much makes us stupid.
But how do you avoid too much stress? Or if it creeps up on you, how do you stop it taking hold?
Luckily there is a huge amount of research in this area, resulting in some practical tools to keep on the right side of our frenemy ‘stress’. Here, I am just going to share a few that my coaching clients have found useful.
The first thing to remember is that whilst we often classify emotions as either ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ that doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
All emotions are there for a purpose. Fear may feel bad but if it keeps us safe then it is good! Happiness may make us feel good, but if it makes us complacent, we may ignore signs warning us of danger. Therefore, it’s how and when the emotions turn up, (and their intensity) that makes them good or bad.
The root of stress is usually fear in some form or another, and as I mentioned in the last blog this can be a good motivator in small doses. Until it isn’t!
Try the following tools to help you to overcome the negative effects of stress (If you find that these don’t work for you, you should seek medical advice as the condition may have become chronic.)
Change your mindset with the ABC Method
Feeling stressed can become a habit, meaning that your body reacts in the wrong way at the wrong time. The ABC method, developed by Albert Ellis and adapted by Martin Seligman, provides a great mind-tool to get back into control.
This is how it works:
Imagine you are on a journey and running half an hour later than planned. Whether you are stressed by this or not depends on your perception about this ‘adverse event’. If you are on the way to a job interview and believe that you are likely to be late, fear will set in, bringing its friend stress along for company.However, if you are relaxed about the journey, listening to your favourite podcast perhaps, then your perception will be totally the opposite. In fact, you might even feel happy about the delay!
So, if you think of A as an Adverse event, B as your Belief about that event and C as the Consequences of that belief, you will recognise the potential to control your response by changing your beliefs.
Sounds easier said than done?
This step by step approach is a great way to tackle your reactions.
1. Recognise that you are feeling stressed.
Learn to recognise the symptoms of stress. (For instance, you might be feeling angry or afraid, your hands may be clammy or your heart racing)
2. Decide if you need to be stressed
Is this emotion helping you to perform better you well or not?
3. Listen to what you are telling yourself
Are you guilty of any of the following thought processes?
• Magnification/ catastrophizing: “My career will be in ruins!”
• Black or white: “If I don’t get there on time, I will miss the interview and never get this opportunity again.”
• Labelling: “I am useless.”
• Should/must/can’t: I should always be 30 minutes early for everything.
• Predicting: I am going to make a complete idiot of myself when I get there late.
4. Change your beliefs
• Put the threat on a scale of 1-100 where the worse possible outcome is as bad as being attacked by a bear.
• Replace the negative messages that you are giving yourself with positive messages. (Even if you don’t think they are true – don’t worry your subconscious doesn’t understand the difference)
• Think up 5 ways this situation could be an opportunity or challenge.
• Visualise everything working out well.
QUICK FIX – CHANGE YOUR PHYSIOLOGY (3 MINUTES)
Slowly raise your shoulders as high as possible then relax and drop them as far as they will comfortably go. Repeat 5 times.
Breathe into the bottom of your lungs counting to 7, then breathe out all of the air, counting to 11. This gets rid of the stale air resulting from shallow breathing in times of stress. Repeat 5 times.
Imagine that your thoughts are friendly bumble bees, buzzing around. Visualise them flying out of a window and hear the sound getting further and further away and growing silent.
Punch the air a few times.
(Don’t try these whilst driving!)
LONGER TERM SOLUTIONS
• Take 20 minutes of exercise five times a week, especially running or jumping jacks. This mimics the fight or flight response – and is what your body is demanding.
• Take 5 minutes or more each day to live in the moment with mindful meditation. This breaks the cycle of harmful thought processes.
• Practice Yoga, Pilates or Tai chi to strengthen the body and live in the moment.
• Get a massage to release toxins from your system.
• Watch or read something to make you laugh, this will help to change your mindset.
What other methods have you tried? What works for you?