“Your goal is to learn how to manage stress before it manages you!”
If you talk to people today and ask them each if they have experienced any stress in the past week, my guess is that you will get 10 out of 10 that will say “Yes.” So, whether you argue that it may not be all ten that reply with a “yes” you would probably agree that the majority of the responses will be “yes.”
We all feel stress
We are stressed about doing a good job at work, our children are stressed about performing well at school and on the soccer field, our managers are stressed about their team meeting deadlines that have been placed on them. Stress exists because of the pressures applied to us by ourselves, others and by our situation or circumstance.
So with all of the pressures placed on us, it appears that some form of stress will be inevitable for everyone. However, it also seems like some people handle it better than others. Sometimes we feel like our pressures must be much more significant and difficult than theirs. If we buy into that philosophy we are heading down a dangerous slope towards the “poor me” syndrome.
- “I am obviously under much more pressure than any of these people.”
- “The issues I deal with are obviously much more stressful than their issues.”
- “My situation is different…”
Don’t let that happen! We all feel stress and comparing our levels of stress to others will do us no good in actually managing our own stress. The key is to compare ourselves to ourselves, not to others. Regardless of how our stressors stack up against others, we must learn to manage our own stress before it manages us.
What is stress?
A very simple but helpful definition for stress is when demands are greater than resources. If you think about a machine you may have heard an engineer or mechanic say, “You are asking too much from this machine. The demands you are placing on this machine are more than what it was designed to handle. If you continue to stress the machine, it will break down.” Now read that again and substitute the word “me” for every time you see “the machine.” Aren’t we really “the machine?”
When another project is placed on your list of responsibilities at work the immediate thought may be, “how am I ever going to find the time to finish this project on time along with all my other responsibilities?” If we go back to our definition of “demands greater than resources equals stress,” in this situation, the demands are “all the work” with the new project, the resource is “your time.” When you don’t have enough resources to handle the demands, you will feel stress.
How do we manage stress?
The first step to managing your stress is to recognize that you are feeling stressed. For most of us, recognizing when we are stressed is not an issue. Once you recognize that you are experiencing stress, you can then work on ways to manage and even eliminate that stress. Going back to our simple definition stress, demands are greater than resources, we can picture this much like balancing scales. When you are stressed, the weight of the demands is so much greater than the resources that the scales are out of alignment. Our goal is to bring these scales into balance.
Based on this definition we are using, there are really only two solutions for eliminating your stress:
- Reduce the number of demands on you
- Increase your level of resources to handle the demands
That sounds much too simple, but it is effective. Let’s look at an example. Think about your first day on the job. Shortly after starting on this new job, chances are that you were asked to handle an issue or project that you considered quite challenging, and it created stress for you. Maybe it was a difficult customer that you had to deal with or it was a contract negotiation. The situation created stress for you because your level of resources (expertise) after you had just started was less than the demand being placed on you. Your scales were out of alignment. You were stressed.
Fast forward to today. Assume that you had the exact same issue arise today. Would you feel that same level of stress? I’m guessing you would either feel no stress or much less stress. While the demand is exactly the same as before, your level of resources (expertise) is much greater today than it was back then. Since your demands are not greater than your resources, you are not stressed.
Define your demands and define your resources. Once you formulate a method for either reducing demand or increasing resources, you can eliminate your stress, even eliminate it permanently!
What if I can’t wait that long for stress relief?
Using the example we gave earlier about your first big project on a new job, it may have take years to accumulate the level of expertise that eliminates the stress completely. I can hear you now, “Even if I started today, I can’t wait that long to reduce my stress! I need to reduce my stress now!” That is the silver bullet we are all looking for, isn’t it?!
I’d really just like to flip a switch and make it go away today. We can take measures to eliminate stress more immediately, but it is also temporary. Temporary relief from stress should be a part of every day life, but it should also be seen as a bridge. While we are working on reducing demands or increasing resources, we will utilize more temporary methods for stress relief to “bridge us” to that day when our lives are in balance.
Every person is unique and every person will have different forms of stress relief. This is where we each must exam ourselves to find the stress relievers that work for us. We must also be careful here because stress relief can take on both positive and negative forms. Exercise may be an excellent, positive way for you to eliminate stress. At the same time, some may say, “a good stiff drink always does the trick for me.” It becomes obvious how both examples may be mentioned as stress relief, but some forms of stress relief may have negative or lasting effects.
You can eliminate stress but it may take some time. Take the time to examine your sources of stress and then define a plan to bring your demands and resources into balance. As a next step, create a list of positive stress relief methods that you can implement to help reduce your stress while you are working on your long term plan to permanently eliminate it.
Many methods for reducing stress include reading a book, exercising, gardening, playing music, listening to music, talking to others in a support group, writing, taking a walk, spending time with loved ones, hobbies, sports, and vacations.
I asked my five year old daughter about what she does to make that frustrated feeling go away and she gave me three forms of stress relief that she likes, “Well, I’d like to read a book with you, Daddy… or I would sing a song… or I would pet Daisy (our black lab.)” Wow… I could use that list to relieve my stress! What great advice and she is only five… I asked her how much that advice was going to cost me and she said, “You can pay later.” For some reason I’m thinking I’ll be reimbursing her for that advice somewhere down the road… with interest.
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