After over 20 years of being a coach and trainer, I have seen my fair share of stress in my clients and students. Even within my personal life stress has had its own grip on me at times in my life.
I recently read an article by Eric Larson, PCC in the International Coaching Federation blog where he stated that “The statistics about stress are staggering. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2017: Nearly eight in 10 people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress; almost half say they lie awake at night due to stress, and employers in the U.S. lose nearly $300 billion to stress-related health care and absenteeism.”
Unfortunately, these numbers don’t surprise me at all. Most often when I meet with a new or potential client there is a common theme. Whether the client is looking to reach a new goal, or they are dealing with health issues, stress is a leading factor and/or result.
So when I thought about my first blog post of 2019 it was an easy decision to share some tips that are often shared as part of a coaching session with my clients.
Shifting our Mindset around stress
How often do you hear… I’m so busy? It’s okay I just have a stressful job? It’s just our busy season, things will get better…
We have become so used to feeling stressed that often it is hard to even see the possibility of there being another option. We often fall into a pattern of feeling we just need to be better, be stronger or even learn a new way of coping. This comes as no surprise when the majority of marketing we are surrounded by reinforces that we need to be happier and less stressed.
What is missing in this way thinking is that it isn’t that we have stressors in our life that are the issue. Stressful situations, tasks, and change will always be present. What creates the physical and emotional overload is actually how these stress triggers affect us.
As coaches, we work with our clients in understanding the root of how a stressful trigger impacts daily life. “We might, for example, reframe stress as an early-warning system that indicates a need for increased awareness and increased self-care; both of which can be touched upon in coaching. This is a powerful shift away from the typical default response to stress, which is to double down, speed up and work even harder. This latter response is nice to utilize once or twice a year, but when it becomes the standard operating procedure, it’s a recipe for disaster.” Eric Larson, PCC
Below are three tips to get you started on transforming how stressful triggers impact you.
The first and most important step is observational awareness. By observing your response physically, mentally and emotional you gain important knowledge that allows you to see what is having an impact on you. With this information, you are able to start to understand the root cause of your stress. This time of discovery allows you to look at your life as it happens and simply see what you see.
A common mistake here is to apply judgment to what is observed. To rush in and try to “fix” what’s wrong with us. This often leads to more stress as we add to our “be better” to do list. To prevent this from happening there are a couple of key tips you can use.
- Take a moment to ground yourself. This could be focusing on your breath, taking a short walk, or a short meditation. Simply allow yourself some time between the situation and the reflection. This time supports a change in the nervous system and allows you to observe from a place of peace and calm.
- When you are ready to take a look, imagine you are watching the situation on a movie screen. This way of observing allows you to disconnect from the situation and see it as something outside of yourself.
- Allow yourself to observe without looking for the why or solutions. Observation is simply noticing what you notice. Nothing more. Look at what can be seen actually happening versus the thoughts or feelings. This allows you to add objectivity to your observation. Below is an example of what this may sound like.
- For an example, I walked into my bosses office and sat down. My boss said he/she wanted to discuss a problem. The situation was described as it happened and a discussion on other options was explored.
- I noticed my body was stiff as I sat in the chair. I felt short of breath.
This is often where we jump into action feeling a sense of urgency to solve the problem or make the change. However, the second step is to reflect on all the options that are available to you. If you have ever been in a brainstorming session in a work setting you may have seen this happen. The idea is to look at all possible options without limits or boundaries. Give yourself some time in this step, look at it from different perspectives. Ie. what would your friend see, your parent, your boss, your customer, your spouse? Allow yourself to see the situation from as many angles as you can.
Often what will open up in this step is an opportunity to see the situation out of the way we normally would. Not only are we then able to see new viewpoints, but we are also able to see new solutions or actions we can take.
The second part of the reflection is to consider if we have faced a similar situation before. What worked? What didn’t? This particular inquiry is the most important step in building resiliency! You see often when we are faced with a stressful situation we forget how much we have already overcome. By looking for what we may have already achieved we are able to reconnect with our own inner wisdom.
The last part is to consider what someone else might do. My favorite questions to get into this mindset are… What would Oprah or Gandhi do? How would my gramma handle this? Or what question would my mentor ask me to reflect on? I call this tapping into universal wisdom!
To act or not to react
This is my favorite part! Now that I have looked for new found awareness and reflected on all my options I have one more important thing to discover. Do I want to act? Or do I want to not react? Why is this my favorite part you ask? Well because this is actually the fun part. You see often what stresses us about a stressful situation is how we react to it. In this step, I get to choose to act in a way that will reduce or remove the stress. Or I get to say… NO to react in a way that is only harmful to me.
So how to decide? Here is the creative part, it’s totally up to you. Sometimes I have a clear answer by the time I get through the reflection. Other times I will allow myself to sit with it, either in meditation or take a walk. Sometimes I will talk it out with a trusted advisor or a friend that is good at listening and helping me to connect with my own answer. And sometimes I will sit down with my coach or mentor and walk it through. What is helpful is to lean into what works best for you in different situations and have these plans ready in your back pocket.