Confront Stress, Don’t Suppress
Stress occasionally enters my world.
It might surprise you to know that a life coach can also fall into the stress trap.
It all begins with an accumulation of experiences spiced up with a selection of badly chosen thoughts that I chose to hang onto.
Stress, for those lucky individuals who have not been visited by it, is that dark cloud that migrates into your region and takes over, converting everything in its path into turmoil.
It becomes a human tornado.
The thoughts playing out in the back office of your mind take centre stage, and suddenly what felt manageable no longer feels it.
Stress believes everything is an emergency and no one performs well when tense.
No leader, performer, athlete or parent.
When in this state, we only have access to a small percent of skill and intelligence. This is because every other space is crammed with other emotions like expectations, frustration and anger, which are encouraged to resurface during this time.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Then we develop stress for others too — our expectations on how they need to behave. So this feeling becomes magnified by a thousand and we then sit in this thick dark cloud for hours, days or even weeks.
It’s important to know;
What are your personal stressors?
Is it a person, a recurring situation or something you’re trying to avoid?
There is often a circularity by which we deal with life, usually, events follow a regular pattern, although this is deeply uncomfortable, it is equally comfortable due to its familiarity.
You could step out of the circularity of your stressful thinking as if you’re stepping out of a hula hoop.
Dusan Djukich in his wonderful book ‘Straight Line Leadership’ introduces a great example of circular versus straight line living;
People are travelling in a circle, usually a vicious circle, going around and around, repeating the same old unworkable behaviours, performing the same actions and hoping for different outcomes in their personal and business life.
This endless circular movement is what the mind does when it’s stuck in the past, living Groundhog day over and over, trying to improve on performance, but improvement is not needed.
What’s needed is for the circle to be opened up and straightened out. For a new line to be drawn from where you are to where you want to be.
Often when I ask someone why they feel stressed, they proceed to list all the things they’re currently involved with. Busyness does not always equal stress. Busyness is just that, being busy.
Being involved with a load of tasks that need doing, doesn’t in itself bring a stressful feeling.
What does create stress is a busy mind, not necessarily a busy life.
We can have a mountain of thinking of all the tasks we are involved with and in this mix we include judgements on how each task needs to be performed. I have known women with large families, juggling kids and a multitude of jobs who have been less stressed than single friends I have who feel stressed just by adding two more tasks to their ‘to do’ list.
A great mentor of mine posed an interesting question when discussing our thoughts.
“If a drunk person walked towards you in the middle of the road, trying to engage in a conversation, would you stop, listen or take anything they say seriously?”
My answer was “Of course not”.
Images of the local drunk in my home town of Gibraltar came to mind. I flinched at the thought of this man walking from side to side with greasy hair, side parting and swigging a bottle of beer in his hand. He was to be avoided at all costs.
But listen to him?
I run away from him without a second look.
The mentor continued,
“That’s exactly what your thoughts are at times, drunk”.
This was a great way for me to get a sense of how we take our thoughts seriously, attach importance to them and then get lost in a world of Alice in Wonderland, where one-moment things look enormous and the next they’re tiny again.
We’re sucked into the topsy turvy world of the mad hatter and all the various characters who used to be highly entertaining to watch when in a movie theatre, but not so much when they get sucked into our world.
Everything looking upside down and inside out.
The accumulation of thoughts which manifest as ‘I should’, ‘I have to’, ‘I must’, brings with it a stress of monumental proportions. It has you running around in circles at times.
Of course, not all thoughts are drunk.
But you know which ones they are because suddenly from feeling great one moment, you begin to spiral down into a whirlpool.
It sucks you right in whilst you hang on for dear life.
What if the stress could be confronted rather than suppressed?
Not feeling as if you need to show it the back door, but just be with it.
Stress is the way your body informs you that you’re thinking is currently overloaded.
In the same way my Mac book Air refuses to work when I have overloaded it with ten different applications all opened at once. It can’t work because it is overwhelmed with content and has no capacity to contain it. I can’t ignore or pretend it doesn’t happen, as it clearly works slower.
It’s up to its limit.
We have an unlimited potential, but we have a limited ability to contain an overload of information in our mind.
I’m not a Zen master with a cheesy smile that can perfect a yoga pose and chant to the heavens. I have my moments, but what I’ve got better at is recognising when the cloud of stressful thinking is about to descend or has already taken anchor in my mind.
At that point I know I’m dealing with an intoxicated mind (and I’m teetotal), so whilst it stays in this state, I know I will feel stressed for a while, but I don’t ever make decisions from this place.
I’ve learnt not to.
Worst decisions have been made from this state.
The same way thick clouds in the sky block any ray of sunshine being able to come forth, our thinking works in the same way.
Thinking creates our feeling, which creates our experience in the moment.
Moment to moment to moment.
Our experience is being created by the back office of our thinking.
We know this is true because five people can have the same tragedies happen to them. Each one will experience it differently, simply because they will be at the mercy of what colour or flavour this thinking will add to the overall story.
You can create a Hollywood movie out of thought — it could be the blockbuster ‘Gone with the wind’ or ‘Silence of the lambs’.
Just never make a serious life changing decision from this place.
Easier said than done.
I can only share what I do, and it’s not a trip to a Psychologist or Psychiatrist, although my personal coach can be amazing to talk to at times like these.
What helps me is to either navigate through it until it goes away, or I do something which is far more fun.
I drive to an old fashioned English tea shop a twenty-minute car ride away in the heart of London. It’s as authentic as you get, old fashioned music playing on a small transistor radio, pretty flowered tablecloths, china crockery (not drab cardboard cups from Starbucks) and the best scones and tea delivered with the warmest, friendliest smile.
There are no large flat screen televisions blaring sky sports, or people on their phones or laptops, as there is no internet access available in that spot.
It’s a calm reminder of how life used to be before we became addicted to being busy.
In fact, last time I felt the need to drive there, I picked up a pen shortly after arriving and wrote this article on a serviette. I had no intention of writing, I was simply taking some time out. Twenty minutes earlier, I couldn’t have written my name, but when all thoughts organically shifted, the words to this article came tumbling out.
By the time I had devoured the last crumb of scone, the world looked totally different. Nothing had changed, but my internal world had, and that’s the only thing that matters.
The same situation experienced differently.
By the time I reached home, I was full of life and ready to tackle whatever came. Sometimes I don’t even have to go anywhere for the thoughts to pass, but it makes it more fun to do so.
If you’re feeling stressed, you might as well enjoy the ride.
As a coach, my daily well-being is crucial, I strive to be in a clear state of mind to facilitate my client’s process. I’m always mindful of returning to a clear state of mind, however many times I’m pulled away from this.
Ignoring the feelings or pushing them away is impossible, in the same way we can’t push the clouds away. We have to wait until the conditions in the atmosphere change, then the cloud will organically move to reveal the sun, bringing light and clarity. Nothing we need to do.
Once thinking moves, we can see clearly, and the path reveals what we need to do next. It sounds simplistic and on some level, we might require it to have more complexity, but stress is a thermometer of life. It’s your body letting you know that you’re at the mercy of your thinking and what’s needed is for it to be finely re-tuned like an instrument.
What about you, How do you deal with stress?