16 Feb Stressful moment doesn’t have to become a stressful life
I frequently get invited to talk about stress. It’s a hot topic. Have you seen the figures?
• 12.5 million working days were lost due to stress in 2017. That’s the highest figure in almost a decade!
• In the same year, stress accounted for nearly half of all working days lost due to ill health. Some think it is the main underlying factor.
• Over half of full-time UK employees said they have experienced burnout in their current job, in some professions it goes up to 70% (YouGov, 2015). That’s nearly all of us!
So, what is stress? And, how does it fuel these shocking figures?
Stress is an intelligent physiological mechanism that has enabled human species to survive and thrive for millions of years. It gears us to deal with challenges and then helps us to recover. How amazing is that?
So why it is that stress makes us sick today? Why is it that more and more people are experiencing burnout? More importantly what can we do about it?
There are many books on the subject of stress. Most books offer tips and strategies to help manage stress and therefore cope better. But – does it always work?
Throughout my work with chronically stressed professionals and also my own experience of burnout, I came to realise that there was something more fundamental about dealing with stress than trying to manage it with strategies. What I am pointing to here is how the experience of stress is created in the first place.
So, let’s look together. How does it work?
To understand this life affirming mechanism, we must fully appreciate the invisible and often forgotten ingredient involved in triggering the response of stress – our perception.
In fact, it is only our perception of challenge that can trigger the stress response. Nothing else can. Our psychological perception which I often call the ‘thinking glasses’ shapes our experience of life in every single moment including experience of stress. Hence, it is literally our thinking that gives us tension, jaw tightness, anxiety, heart palpitations, shaky legs, butterflies in our stomachs and low mood.
You may be thinking … this cannot be true? Surely it is my workload, lack of time, my demanding boss or receiving a parking ticket at the end of a busy day!
I know. It totally looks that way. Human psychology or to put it another way, the stuff that is happening in our mind, is super-fast and completely invisible. It is like the best ever, super-fast broadband! We don’t see the mechanics behind what is delivered. We don’t see our perceptions. We focus on the outside. All we see is the papers piling up on our desks, our boss passing by in a hurry and a parking ticket stuck behind the windscreen wiper. This is why we innocently equate external circumstances with our experience of stress.
I remember being completely ‘what the f**k?’ when I first discovered that. In fact, at the time I was experiencing chronic stress with headaches, anxiety and full blown emotional exhaustion. Realizing that my experience was not directly caused by my circumstances but literally by my thinking (!) was a complete shocker at first. It stopped me in my tracks and made me look inside my own mind. What I saw was literally a thought storm. I saw lots of negative thoughts about past, present and future swirling around in my head at a very high speed. I was caught in a blizzard.
When we understand that it is our perception, which is simply our thinking, and not a circumstance that causes us stress, the equation ‘circumstance=experience’ starts to crumble. Our awareness shifts and we start to look inside our mind. We begin to see our creative mind in action. That’s exactly what we see – the mind in action. Because our mind is always in action – thinking, thinking and thinking some more.
If I asked you to pause for a minute and look inside… What is going on in your mind right now? Can you see it? Can you see thoughts passing through your mind as you read this?
Human beings have an astonishing capacity to think. We think all the time. And that’s what matters. We have the ability to think over 70,000 thoughts per day – be it stressful thoughts or not. Because of this incredible potential we can look at every situation with a fresh thinking glasses. This in-built capacity to think is what matters the most.
Stressful thoughts = stressful experience. Fresh thoughts = fresh experience. The situation stays the same. We are capable of experiencing the same situation is a million of different ways because of our limitless potential to think.
That’s why the only thing we need to do, when we are getting caught in a stressful feeling, is to look inside. A calmer perspective will naturally arise. That’s how our psychology is designed. The way forward will become clearer when the heavy storm passes. Take a moment…
A stressful moment doesn’t have to become a stressful career or life.
Understanding this is a game changer. It was for me and it is for many of my clients. Of course, we will still feel stressed from time to time – it’s totally natural! But we don’t have to keep ourselves stuck in a blizzard. It is our negative and worried thoughts that constantly trigger the body’s stress reaction keeping us locked in a vicious circle heading towards burnout. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
So, the next time you get caught in a thinking blizzard. Look inside. Pause for a moment. Take a breath. Let the thought storm pass. It will. Relax into clarity and calm. It is our default setting. Resilience and creativity is our nature.
And if you are caught in a blizzard and would like to have a chat, email me today. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
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