Stress Doesn’t Have To Be Stressful
Imagine a dam bursting. It bursts either because the load is too great or the structure insufficient. Like a dam, we feel stressed when the challenge feels too much or we feel we’re not up to it. But we have a huge advantage over dams. We are flexible, unlimited and adaptable.
What determines how stressed we feel is how we choose to approach our challenges. Below are three approaches to reduce the feeling of stress.
1. Rethink the Challenge
Challenges are important in our lives. They keep us motivated and vital. We don’t want to rid ourselves of challenges. But thinking and acting differently in the face of them can help reduce stress.
The task at hand is what it is. You can attempt to reduce it but often this is not possible. Here are some helpful and stress-reducing ways of approaching challenges.
- Enlist help. (It’s not heroic to struggle alone.)
- Recognise when a deadline can’t be met and renegotiate the time frame. This is so much more empowering that careering towards a deadline knowing your going to crash straight into it.
- Break down the challenge into smaller parts, and take them one at a time. Although this won’t reduce the overall load, it will give you a sense of small and regular achievements.
2. Increase Your Resources
There is a difference between real and perceived resources.
Real resources are what you have to perform the task in hand: skills, knowledge, money, manpower. If you have to do something with insufficient real resources you will experience stress. Make a list of resources you need and set about getting them. Buy books, attend courses, fundraise, seek advice, etc.
Now for your perceived resources. This is where we get into the territory of how capable you think you are.
You have been promoted into a new job, your colleagues and friends think you’re up to it. But you don’t. This is understandable. It’s a change…it’ll stretch you…it’s uncertain – all elements that increase our sense of stress.
But you may also be feeling a dreadful sense of unease as you contemplate what you think is an inevitable fall from grace. Everyone will soon find out what you ‘know’ to be true: that you can’t really do it.
By the way, this is also true of new relationships. Chances are you’re concentrating your thinking in certain ways that distort your perception. For example:
- Overgeneralising – Where you see one negative event in your past as evidence of future negative outcomes.
- Disqualifying the positives – You think positive experiences don’t count as much as the negative ones
- All or nothing thinking – You are either one thing or another, for example perfect or a failure.
Each time you think negatively about your ability to rise to the challenge, list all the relevant positive experiences and allow yourself some human error.
3. Cultivate Flow
Flow is the state of being totally absorbed in a challenging activity and having the necessary skills to perform it. Children have it in abundance. And it is the opposite of and a great antidote to stress. Flow happens when you are challenged and the challenge makes you happy.
In flow, we feel energised, successful and lacking in self-consciousness. Someone could be calling your name and you don’t even hear it. You’re hungry and exhausted but don’t even realise it. You’ll recognize flow because you’ll be doing something challenging that feels effortless.
It requires concentration and focus. When you feel overwhelmed, strip everything away and attend to one thing at a time. Bring to bear all your energy on the task at hand. And make it matter to you. Let all other mental interruptions pass through your mind.
Flow is often found in creative pursuits, but not exclusively. Whatever brings you flow, abandon yourself to it as often as you can. And where you feel stress endeavour to cultivate flow instead. Find out more about flow from its pioneer, psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
And the next time you feel you’re going to burst like a dam remember you’re elastic, not concrete. You have the option to rethink yourself and the situation.