Stress is on the rise
Are you managing it or masking it?
The new Stress in America™ survey just came out. Nationwide, stress is on the rise. How is this affecting you personally?
Stress can be a killer. Literally. We all know that, but how often do you actively, deliberately put strategies in place that will lower your stress levels?
Not enough, right?
We get caught up in the busyness of life. And begin to believe “That’s just how life is.”
John C. Maxwell said, “Most people don’t lead their life, they accept their life.”
Of course that’s other people. That’s not you. You’re in charge; totally in control of your destiny. Uh, huh.
Yeah, that’s what I used to think too before someone pointed out how my daily habits were actually what was causing extended distress in my life. I had routines that, in retrospect, were not serving me well. And the results spoke for themselves. I was easily angered. I was frustrated. I felt stuck and trapped. Overwhelmed. And out of control. I was like a time-bomb ready to explode.
It’s almost funny now, looking back with clarity, how I can see that most of my frustrations I was actually bringing on myself. Maybe you’re doing this too.
Here’s a thought to put this into perspective.
We talk so much about healthy eating. If someone told you, “Eat whatever makes you feel happy,” you would never subscribe to that flawed way of thinking because you know there would be consequences. Certain foods will make you fat, clog your arteries, or make you sick especially if done excessively. We’re conscious that what we eat matters.
Even if we don’t practice healthy eating, we do watch what we eat —
…yet we do very little to watch what we think.
This is where the real damage is done. Negative thinking. Selfish thinking. Resentful, angry, bitter thoughts — these are all unhealthy patterns that do not serve you well. Don’t think in terms of good/bad or right/wrong. This isn’t a moral issue; this is about healthy, constructive thoughts.
Get rid of the thoughts that are destructive in nature. Today, pay attention to your thoughts and determine how many of them are “serving you” or “enslaving you.” You’ll find many opportunities to increase your healthy thinking.
Here are three strategies for better managing stress
1). Learn to live deliberately
I know you’re telling me (and yourself) that you already do that. You’re a manager; a leader. You’re someone who makes things happen. Yeah, I was in the same boat. I totally convinced myself that I was in charge when in reality I was allowing other things to be in charge of me.
Take your addiction to e-mail or your mobile device, for example. How often are you checking your e-mail? If a text alert sounds, do you have the strength to not look at it? Can you make it five minutes? Ten? Will your FOMO (fear of missing out) continually pester you until you check the alert?
I used the word “addiction” intentionally. We don’t like to think of our connection to technology as an addiction, but that’s what it is. The thought of unplugging for a week or even a weekend gives us the shakes.
The APA’s Stress in America survey revealed 43% of Americans are “constant checkers,” meaning they repeatedly check their social media throughout the day. Stress is higher for constant checkers. On a scale from 1 to 10 (where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress), non-constant checkers report stress levels of 4.4. Employed Americans who check their email constantly on non-workdays such as holidays and weekends report an average stress level of 6.0.
Interestingly enough 65% of Americans say they often or constantly check personal e-mail.
Where are you in these numbers? Do you control your technology (and digital communication)? or does it control you?
Learn to live deliberately. Decide when each day you will check e-mail. I have found a healthy practice for me is to not look at e-mail until my morning meditation and devotions are done. I find my best creativity comes during that time and I’m better able to get in the flow and create beautiful things. Ideally, I’m working to get my e-mail checking down to two times a day — 1pm and 4pm.
2). Fire the bad storyteller
Many of our stresses come from the negative stories we tell ourselves. Stories with horrible endings that might-could-maybe-possibly happen. This is called catastrophizing.
This is a sure-fire way to elevate your stress levels and deplete your energy levels.
You’re far more creative than you think. You don’t realize how imaginative you are. The trouble is, you’re using this negative creativity against yourself.
And you’re not alone. I do this too. For example, I created a series of films for a man who was a seven summiter. He had scaled the top of the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. As I was finishing up the films I would shoot him an e-mail for clarification on a detail or I would request an image or something. Every time I e-mailed him he responded back within 30 minutes.
That is until I finished the project.
When I completed the three short films, I sent him an e-mail with the links to check them out. And heard nothing.
This was unlike my previous experience with him so I immediately started into “Bad Storyteller Mode.” I started telling myself how he had watched the films and must have hated them so much he’s having trouble coming up with a polite way to tell me. Or maybe he’s so upset with how they turned out, he’s never going to speak to me again. Or maybe…
I caught myself quickly.
Because I had trained myself to recognize when I was telling myself unhealthy, fictional stories, I was able to put on the brakes and stop myself from spiraling down. The only thing I actually knew was that he normally responded quickly to my e-mails and now he’s not. Anything beyond that I would have to make up because I didn’t have any more details than that.
Three days went by. Then an email… “Scott… I’m in Nepal. The WIFI is terrible… Can’t wait to see the films!”
What if I had allowed myself to spiral down for three days? What if I had catastrophized my stress levels up over a negative-ending story that was purely imaginary?
I’m sure that story will ring true to you as you think about the many times your stress levels rise because of a bad story you’re telling yourself. There’s a quote attributed to the great Mark Twain that says, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life — some of which actually happened.”
Learn to catch your negative-ending stories quickly and you’ll learn to better manage your stress levels.
3). Get plenty of sleep
We live in a society that places a high value on being a workaholic. Many people tie their personal value to how little they sleep. The harder you work the more devoted you are. I’ve got a sister who brags each year about how late she stayed up on Christmas Eve wrapping presents for her children. It’s like her personal statement of love for her family. The longer she stays up the more she loves her kids.
I don’t fall for the bait. I try not to say anything as I think about the fun and exciting Christmas morning I had just experienced with my own children after a perfectly restful sleep and a morning of being fully present.
Proper rest brings clarity, peace, and happiness.
Arianna Huffington has started a movement at Thrive Global to help people learn to unplug and take back their lives. Follow the leaders. Listen to their stories. Discover what a difference it can make when you give your body the proper time to rest and recharge.
The fact is, there are many things you can do each day to better manage your stress levels. Live by design rather than by default. Become more conscious and fully aware of the negative stories, habits, and patterns we find ourselves falling into, then deliberately do something about it.
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