I am a therapist, and I often surprised by the courage of people who soldier on in what seems to be the most difficult of circumstances. Dealing with death, illness, abuse and impossible demands on a daily basis. You probably know someone like that because there are lots of us.
We have an incredible resilience to keep going when we must.
But I also encounter many people who carry a lot more stress than they need to. We somehow become blind to our stress because things have been this way for so long. So we just do what we do, stressed out but functional.
The experts call this limited awareness ‘symptom blindness’ and it’s a problem. It’s a problem when we shout at our loved ones too often, when we stop being a team, and when we can’t find time to do the things that bring joy and wellness.
I had a client who claimed that he needed his stress, despite the impact it was having on his health. I get it. This energy was fuelling him to work crazy hours in his business. He needed that motivation to keep going.
Stress can be positive
He had found the positive part of stress, because stress does motivate. It also reflects some important and positive truths – about the things you care about. And it doesn’t have to ruin your health. To paraphrase health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, with stress,
‘You get the effect you expect.’
Stress is going to show up in your life because that’s life. It’s what you do with it that matters. And most people don’t really know what to do with it, so they try to ignore it as best they can, and soldier on. Hoping it goes away.
An effective new way of doing stress
My system for transforming stress (‘from painful to powerful’) is the exact opposite of soldiering on. It begins with knowing when you are stressed and being prepared to do something different. The stressed out mind is narrow and a few IQ points short of normal. It often survives on habit, no matter how dysfunctional that habit might be.
No more hamster wheel
So even knowing when to take action on stress is a challenge. But that helpful new response can be learned. And it is quick and easy to jump off the old hamster wheel when you know how. So come on over into the ‘here and now’.
Next, you can transform this threatening experience of stress to a more positive ‘challenge’ experience. A challenge feels better. A challenge is energising with a distinct possibility of success. You may not know what to do about these demands on you yet, but in this calmer space you can invoke your ‘wise self’ – that part of you that is resourceful and capable.
Your wise self knows
You’ve come through stressful times before, even stresses worse than this. You can do it again. You’ve got the goods. You know that, and now you can remember that.
Next, you can refocus on your resources – the specific strengths, skills, contacts, and past successes relevant to the challenge before you. These are things that you don’t notice when you are overwhelmed, but you can utilise now.
Just briefly make an inventory of what you’ve got now, and what you could get soon in order to do this challenge.
Resources plus ‘trim’
When you can bring significant resources to the table, you are ready to tackle the challenge.
First define the challenge in clear terms. What are you being asked to achieve, by whom, when, where and with what?
Next, ask whether this task needs to be done. By you. With what and who you’ve been given. Here. There is a possibility that the challenge can be trimmed before you tackle it.
That applies especially to the unique ways that your own personal stories and biases make the challenge more burdensome than it needs to be. Look at those too. Challenge them.
You are ready to take it on. You have transformed that stress into a challenge and brought your best to it. It is a simple structured approach, and surprisingly quick and easy to do.
It would be easy, too easy to just do ‘business as usual’. But there is a cost to remaining on the hamster wheel.
Are you ready to do something a little different, and a lot more effective, now?