Stress has become a part of everyday life – and dealing with it is hugely important for our happiness and the happiness of those around us.
We don’t see ‘dealing with it’ as managing the stress itself. Rather, we see tackling it as ‘managing self’ in a high-pressure, always-on world.
Until recently we all (that is mankind) had natural rhythms of work and recovery – work during daylight and rest during the night. But it is not like that now. Technology makes us and our work accessible to each other at all times, so we are having to learn new skills of self-management. This self-management is effectively saying no, even to good things, so we have the energy and bandwidth to be our best selves.
You are going to be too busy – that is a fact of life. You are going to worry about money – everyone does. But you can implement the cycles of work, rest and recovery to manage yourself.
This #InternationalStressAwarenessWeek – and on #NationalStressAwarenessDay in the UK (Wednesday 6th Nov 2019) – we wanted to share three strategies that everyone can implement to help minimise stress, improve teamwork and maintain a healthy life balance.
Managing Unmet Expectations
Our greatest source of stress is often unmet expectations – people say or do something different to what we would expect. The best way to manage this is what we call Habit #1 – BE CURIOUS not critical.
The better we get at understanding how and why people think/feel/act differently, the better we can anticipate, make allowances, and mutually adjust our behaviours. That way, we experience less stress, better quality relationships and better teamwork.
Action: Think of the people who you find most challenging to work with. Do they have strengths different to yours? Treasure hunt the good stuff by getting curious when they do things that surprise or irritate you. Make allowances for the bad – often those things come with the territory of the areas of strength. Becoming more aware of yourself and the things that irritate, as well as more aware of others, their strengths and weaknesses, allows more grace and forgiveness. Now, THERE are two empowering words not spoken often enough in a work context but absolutely stress-reducing when we embrace them.
Managing Conflict Effectively
Conflict is inevitable, so we must develop the skills to do it well and strengthen rather than damage our relationships in the process. Learning how to develop Habit #2 – BE CAREFUL, not crushing is vital to minimising stress and improving productivity and enjoying more supportive teamwork. Think about it – how do you respond to conflict? On a scale of 1-10 how well do you “fight”, where 10 means you get through it, increase understanding and strengthen the relationship in the process, and 1 is destructive to the relationship – forevermore never the twain shall meet? Nobody comes pre-packed with all these skills, they must be learnt. Strong listening skills with a genuine interest to understand the other person’s view instead of just rehearsing your response is key here.
Action: Take a moment and have a think – if you could decide how to turn up and behave in a conflict situation, what would you do? Who would you want to be? How could you develop the skills to be your “best self” and live that out the next time there is a conflict situation?
Aligning Priorities and Values
Another key source of stress is where our life on the outside contradicts our values on the inside and creates what we call a “grating on the inside”. There are two kinds of gratings – one when we are on the edge of growth, pushing outside the comfort zone when everything inside is screaming for us to stay within the confines of comfort. That is a good grating. Then there is the other kind of grating, that gnawing feeling that something is off, core values are being contradicted and your life is no longer congruent.
This is the grating that many people come face to face with mid-career when they discover they have been climbing the wrong career ladder or living life on other people’s agendas. People will always make demands of you as long as you make yourself available and it’s easy to fill white space when there is nothing there. But when you find yourself committed to things or doing things that cut across values you haven’t even articulated to yourself, you create stress, anger and irritable responses that might surprise even you. Pay attention to the grating – it is trying to tell you something….
A key way of dealing with that stress is to clarify our values and priorities and develop a template for our daily schedules based on our core values and the people/things important to us, rather than just our “to-do” lists. This is one of the most rewarding workshops we run, when we get out the paper and coloured pencils and coach participants through the process of designing their life balance and a template of their ideal weekly schedule based on the things that are important to them rather than based on the never ending to-do list. It is so rewarding seeing people come alive and be liberated by identifying the things they must do versus the things they can dump or delegate. Through this process people are freed up to live a more purposeful life, prioritising our efforts in the direction of our long-term goals, rather than constantly comparing our lives to other people’s or living by other people’s agendas. Practising Habit #3 – ASK, don’t assume, helps us develop mutual respect in our relationships as we learn to identify and articulate what matters most to us.
We all have the same 24hrs as those uber-successful people being pulled on by the world. The difference is in knowing how to invest time rather than just spend it because it’s the one resource we never get back.
So, what is causing you internal stress? What is it trying to tell you?
Speak up – ask for what you want – don’t expect mindreading especially around roles/responsibilities where assumptions and stereotypes are rife. Ask yourself the question – what’s the thing you keep saying you will do one day? Who are the people you enjoy being around? What would you regret not doing if your life were cut short? And, here is the killer question, how well are those reflected in your diary right now? Or, if they are not able to be included in your schedule now, do you have a plan for when they will? Living life on permanent hold is stressful – but that is the stress you can control.
Action: So, this #StressAwarenessWeek, take some time to…
- Clarify your values.
- Assess the gap between what you want and where you are.
- Put a plan in place to move towards your goal.
There is nothing more energising than living on purpose and spending your days doing work that aligns with your values and/or moves you closer to being fully aligned (like allowing you to save towards your dreams). It helps you make better decisions between attractive options. It frees you from the bondage of comparison and it empowers you to say no to other people’s agenda.