This article outlines the main approaches to stress we often hear about, and then offers a simple formula to manage a situation in your own life which is causing you stress (without giving you a check-list you've seen a thousand times before).
What we often hear about stress
There is a lot of talk about stress these days. Some people even use it as a badge of honour, because culturally we've come to associate stress with success. "I'm so stressed right now" can be synonymous with "I'm so busy and important" which can normalise stress, and even subtly encourage it, particularly in the workplace. This leads to people ignoring the signs of mental or physical stress, because it's "normal"... right?
The wellness industry tends to focus on the physical relief of stress. Getting our bodies to a point where we can physiologically transition into a parasympathetic nervous system response (the "rest and digest" mode) is vital as a way to change long held patterns of behaviour which contribute to chronic stress. This is a behavioural approach to stress management - i.e. changing behaviours in order to relieve the physical symptoms of stress so it doesn't accumulate in the body. The focus is on the body, and practical tools to alter its state.
Another approach is more cognitive. This emphasises how you're thinking about your life, and yourself right now, and puts the focus on thoughts. This approach would encourage you to change your thinking, manage your worries, focus on gratitude and try to mentally reframe a situation, or gather more evidence in order to reduce the mental load of stress, and to change our mental patterns around stress. The focus is on thought processes.
All that can sound a bit...well, stressful. It can seem like another checklist of things to do, or plan to do and then feel guilty for not doing them. (We've all been there). So simplify it right down. What's causing you stress right now? Then take a moment to step back, and actually think about what stress is.
Stress is when the demands you're facing are greater than your perceived
resources to cope with those demands. (Note the word "perceived").
This is Richard S. Lazarus's approach from years of research into stress and its impact on human performance.
Let's take a second to compute that - taking this understanding of stress, in order to manage what's causing you stress right now, you have three options:
Manage demands: practical steps to mitigate stressful situations / personalities / environments which could reduce the load of the demand. For example- reducing work tasks, saying 'no' to tasks you cannot take on, setting boundaries, managing time more effectively, changing your environment etc.
Develop your resources to deal with the demands that cannot be altered. For example getting training for a particular weak spot, getting external support, hiring different people, equipping yourself with more advanced tools, etc.
Re-evaluate your perception of your resources: think about how you are viewing yourself. There are many factors which contribute to self-perception. For example, do you tend to downplay your skills, underestimate yourself, feel like an imposter? Alternatively, do you overestimate how much you can get done in a day and then feel like a failure when you don't meet your unrealistic expectations? How is the way you are viewing your resources contributing to stress in this situation? If you viewed yourself more accurately (note I say accurately, and not just positively) could you make a more objective appraisal of the demands-resources balance? What external information or appraisals could you gather about your resources?
Maybe you're reading this and the answers are already becoming clear. Maybe you're not able to think it through right now and need to come back to it later. Click the link below to download a PDF of a quick and simple Stress Evaluation exercise using this framework. Feel free to do it now, and use it again whenever it's useful.
I hope you have an 'aha!' moment with this exercise - it's amazing how people can solve their problems when they sit back and evaluate stress from a fresh and practical perspective. I hope it helps you to take a more objective approach to stress with a proactive resolution so you can reduce your stress levels and have more energy for the things in life that bring you joy!
Wishing you well this week.
Sometimes what's causing stress is a little more complicated. Book in your free phone consultation to chat about coaching here.
This 20-30 minute call is an opportunity to discuss the situation in your life which is causing stress, and to gain clarity on next steps. You will be heard, challenged and supported.