Stressed out by that presentation you must deliver tomorrow? Can’t stand your obnoxious cubicle mate one more second? Boss is giving you grief for the sake of it and you’re dreading each morning? Well, you’re not alone. Neither are you powerless.
Here are some steps to take when stress, anxiety or any negative emotion, really, become overwhelming. They work for me, as they do for other individuals I know.
That said, two words of advice:
– although what I present you works, it is by no means the perfect way, the only way or The Way. We are all individuals and each one will eventually tweak, change and modify the method to find what suits best. Please take all that only as a start, a general guideline;
– ideally, you’d want to do all this right there and then. I know this is not always possible – we’re all human and, in the heat of the moment, it is hard to maintain composure and remember things we should do. We react as we are wired, mostly. In that case, do the exercise later – it is still hugely useful, if only as preparation for the next heated moments (they will come for sure!).
- You are not the only one in such a predicament: we all have rough patches and difficult moments. Some of us are better at hiding it, but on the inside we’re all the same color. That colleague that keeps his cool and turns robot-like in a crisis? Aloofness may be his way to keep the pain and anxiety from overwhelming him. That recently divorced mom of two, who gets out every night and feels wonderful now, that she’s single? It may well be that parties are her way of avoiding loneliness. They’re not really that tough; they’re just good at hiding it. You are not alone by any stretch. Remember that.
- Feelings are natural, they are not a flaw. We are wired to feel down, empty, nervous, anxious or furious. Don’t blame yourself; don’t let yourself tricked into buying in the trope of “you shouldn’t feel this way”. You feel what you feel. Let the feeling arise and go (and, as a side note, “should” is one of the most destructive words I’ve encountered – abandon it where it does harm!).
- Fighting the feeling will only enhance its grip. If you feel fear, feel it, it’s no shame. If what you feel is fury, let it be. Feelings only come to go away eventually. If you can, resolve to be a pipe for negative feelings, not a reservoir. Allow it to manifest, and then allow it to go away (refer to points 4 and 5 for that).
- You are not your mood. Generally speaking, you are not your brain. Do not identify with it. If you bump a toe on a bed post, your toe hurts, not the entirety of You. The same goes here: your brain oozes the mood, but you don’t have to drown in it. Simply observe your feelings, without judging them as “good” or “bad”. Replace “I am angry” with “I feel anger” or even with “My brain makes me feel anger“. Distance does cool down heated feelings.
- Switch to “Clinical Mode On”. “Clinical mode” is what I call when I observe what I feel without getting entangled, just like a wildlife biologist observes a lion hunting and killing an antelope. For sure, it is a tragedy for the antelope, and the scientist acknowledges and accepts that. He can even feel sad for the animal; but, in the end, he is just an outside observer keeping clear of the drama. In the same way, you can observe what is going on with you, but not get involved.
- Direct your attention away from the events that caused the feelings. Brooding is natural – and unhelpful. Once the situation is gone, let it be gone. Pay deliberate attention to the outside. Take a walk – if you can – and strive to consciously observe all and any details of the world. Colors of the items in a shop window? See how many different shades you can count. Benches with people resting? See if you can observe the shape and shade of each one or any differences between various benches. A cute young couple passing by? Maybe you can observe gestures and guess what they’re talking about. You will come back to brooding, eventually. That’s OK, we humans are prone to that. Observe that return as you would observe a flashing shop sign – “My brain keeps returning to brooding“. Just get your eyes and mind out again.
- Straighten up. That’s right, I’m not joking: straighten up your back and keep your forehead and eyes pointing forward. It’s a neat little psychological trick: physiology influences the mind. Walk like you are happy and you’ll feel less gloom-and-doom inside.
- Accept. “Yeah, right, I should just accept I made a mess”. Hey, I can hear your thoughts! Stop that! Seriously now, “accepting” does not mean “I don’t care”. It means “I’m human, I will make errors and that says nothing about me as long as I strive in good faith to correct the consequences to the best of my abilities“. We all have our inglorious moments. We’re not less because of that. Accept that truth of life and move on.
Of course, none of the above comes naturally and all of it takes effort. Some of it will not be your cup of tea, for sure. No problem, just try something else until you find your own, personal way to bootstrap yourself out of the hole. And, when you have discovered neat little tricks, maybe you’ll return here and share those trick. You might make many unknown lives a little bit better.
PS: when working with yourself (which is what I propose here), the hardest part isn’t what, it’s the how. We all know we should calm down; how in heaven do I do it when I’m in flames?
That is why I thought some ideas on the how of stress management might prove useful for some people.
Do you want to find out more? Get in touch with a consultant now or request a free demo!
By Catalin Octavian Blaga – Trainer Great People Inside
Trainer who turns business experience and psychology into impacting training programs… and more