“Stress makes people stupid.”
This statement, quoted by Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, says it all. He explains: “When emotionally upset, people cannot remember, attend, learn, or make decisions clearly.” Not a very good recipe for success, to be sure. While some stress may actually be good for you (it can keep you alert and focused) too much stress can be debilitating; it can take a toll on productivity and on your physical and emotional well-being.
So, what is stress? Well, many people believe the stress they experience on a day-to-day basis is caused by outside forces: Our job demands a ridiculous amount of our time; our boss is on our case; our family needs our non-stop attention. We believe these things are the culprit, but in fact, it is how we think about these things that creates our stress. Our thoughts are directly linked to our feelings. If we think angry, we feel angry. If we think panic, we feel panic. The key to eliminating much of the stress in our lives is to gain greater awareness on what’s causing it and then work to redirect those stressful thoughts. Here are some ways to help you recognize stress responses in the body and the mind and then eliminate stressful thoughts.
Listen to your body. Pay attention to how you feel physically. Are you holding your breath? Is your heart racing? Are you clenching your teeth? Is your stomach churning? This is your body in stress mode!
Listen to your thoughts. Take note of your thought patterns. What are you saying to yourself? Are your thoughts creating stress for you?
Shift your thinking. Once you notice that your thoughts are generating stressful feelings, stop thinking those thoughts. It sounds too simple, right? Yet often, just noticing your thoughts will help you to break the cycle. Then, take a step back and do a bit of analysis: Review the facts of the situation. What is your evidence? Is there another way to view the situation? If not, what is the worst thing that could happen? You may be concentrating on the worst possible, but not the most likely, outcome. Once you’ve analyzed the situation, replace “stress building” thoughts with “stress busting” ones. Here are some examples:
Stress Builder: “I’m never going to get this project done on time.”
Stress Buster: “If I stay focused and take it one step at a time, I’ll make steady progress.”
Stress Builder: “My supervisor didn’t say good morning to me. He’s probably unhappy with my work. Performance reviews are coming up. I bet I get a bad evaluation.”
Stress Buster: “I’m jumping to conclusions. My supervisor may have been distracted or in a bad mood. So far, my evaluations have been positive, so unless I get some critical feedback, I’ll assume my supervisor is okay with my work.”
Stress Builder: “I can’t get the mistake I made on the report out of my mind. This is huge. The project is ruined. I’ve let down everyone. I’m such a loser!”
Stress Buster: I’ll leave this one to you. Try reworking these catastrophic thoughts to those that are more reasoned.
Can you see how our minds can get us so worked up?
Finally, try to slow down. As soon as you start to feel rushed or anxious, make a conscious effort to focus on the one thing in front of you that needs to get done right then. Trying to plow ahead and work harder and faster will only create more frustration and stress. Rather than letting your mind run ahead, turn to the task at hand. You’ll not only get the work done, the quality will be there, and you’ll be in a calmer mood. And, your mind and body will thank you for it.
See how you do in the next week or so. Try using your mind to reduce your stress.
Until next time.