Podcast 010- Stress 2

Today we are continuing our conversation about stress that we started last week.

Last week we talked about why we need stress in our life, what causes it and how to become aware of it in your body. I introduced the analogy of the elastic and suggested you determine your current level of stress in your body along with your sweet spot so you know where you'd like to be in life.

Tip 1 for living with stress = self-awareness

Today, we're going to cover step 2 - 5 of living with stress, so we best get right into it!

Tip 2 for living with stress = take an inventory of your current tools, strategies & practices

What do you do when you start to feel stressed out?

When I ask people to create a list of their stress tools in workshops they typically have 5 to 10 things they do when they notice they are stressed out. Although there are a few anomalies, typically their ideas fit into these seven categories:

  1. Exercise (running, aerobics, weight lifting)
  2. Distraction (music, colouring, painting, TV, driving fast)
  3. Comfort foods or drink (tea, chocolate, ice-cream, booze, smoking)
  4. Connecting with others (talking with a friends, counselor/therapist, playing with kids)
  5. Sports (football, hockey, racquet ball)
  6. Tuning into self (yoga, meditation, journaling, labyrinth)
  7. Connecting with nature (walking, petting their dog, riding horse, rock climbing, sitting by a lake)

Some of these tools can be problematic, but many of them are great – especially when you are tuned into your stress levels and put them into action before your elastic reaches critical levels.

 

What you might notice about them, however, is that very few can be used at work or in a difficult situation with other people (i.e. during a meeting, while grocery shopping, etc.). In other words these stress relieving ideas are wonderful, for those situations where you have the time and freedom to put them into place. Unfortunately, if that's all you have in your toolbox, you can run into trouble during really busy and stressful times in your life when something quick and unobtrusive is needed.

So you need to have a whole variety of tools and this is where many are lacking, because often you don't even realize how stressed you are starting to feel until you're caught in that traffic jam and feel the road rage coming on…or until you're in the grocery store and your kids start squabbling with each other or whining for something and you suddenly notice your elastic stretching too far…

The tighter the elastic the harder it will be to calm yourself down in the moment.

The answer? Have a variety of easy tools you can put into play throughout the day to help bring down the stress the moment it starts to increase.

Tip 3 for living with stress = educate yourself; strive to continually learn a variety of tools that can be used in any setting

In the cortisol podcast I talked about some breathing techniques, getting oxytocin flowing and controlling your thoughts so you're not setting off your danger signal when you aren't in any physical danger. Breathing is an example of a tool you can use in any setting, although the oxytocin breath itself (which is a little bit noisy) might not always be the best choice.

Noticing your thoughts and controlling the feedback you are sending to your brain is also something you can use, as is some of the material from other podcasts, such as; separating your Ego from your Higher Self, quieting your inner critic and understanding that events are neutral.

On my website I offer a complimentary copy of my ABC's of Stress busting which further elaborates on some of these points and provides plenty of other ideas as well. So if you do not have that, go get it…it's free!

Learning techniques that help you destress in the moment is an ongoing process in life. It's not like you can just take a course and be done. Tools that work for one might not work for someone else. As well, what works for you today might not work for you tomorrow AND to complicate things even further…what doesn't work for you today, might work for you next week! So you'll need to learn lots of tools and try not to write too many off just because they don't fit your current needs.

Make it a priority to accumulate tools and strategies that work for you and the situations you find yourself in and be ready to change and adapt your tools as your life evolves.

Super important stress tip…

It's not how much stress you have in your life that determines its negative impact… it is how you perceive the stress that matters.

Let me say that again…it's not the stress itself that is the problem. It's your thoughts about that stress and specifically, your opinion on how bad it is that makes it a problem.

That's why you can get people that work in really stressful work environments where day after day they are dealing with crisis, human suffering, death; all things that have the potential to be stressful for people. Yet, if they are skilled at compartmentalizing or detaching from the emotional aspect of what they do, they can handle it without negative side-effects from the stress itself.

Unfortunately, it's also easy to become so skilled at detaching you stop connecting and processing the feelings that are rightfully yours which can cause problems in your relationships as well as with your health.

That's a bit of a different conversation…so back to our perception and how that affects our stress.

My story…

Several years ago when my husband and I were starting our family, my husband was told that the corporation he was working for would be closing its doors for good and everyone was encouraged to start seeking out other jobs.

At the time our youngest was about 4 months old. So I was at home with a baby, an almost 3 year old and although I was technically on mat leave, I had asked for an extension from my part-time position when called back to work after 3 months and had been told that wouldn't be possible, so my job was gone.

It was a scary feeling to think that we were responsible for two little ones, I had no job and now my husband could end up out of work. Despite this, we decided to trust it would work out and my husband found himself another job (in actual fact a headhunter came after him, which certainly felt nice and meant he didn't have to start from scratch).

His new job was to be with an upstart company and while they had a lot of potential, they did not have an established track record or the resources to provide the kind of security we had previously enjoyed. Like most young couples, we were living paycheque to paycheque so a cut in pay was concerning.

My husband decided to stay with the original corporation as long as their doors were open, mostly out of loyalty, but also because financially it made sense to do so.

Now, this happened to be in 1997 and we just happened to live in a small town in southern Manitoba. If you're not from here then you might not know this, but in 1997 Manitoba experienced what we referred to as the flood of the century (there's been so many major floods since then – all around the world, that it almost seems silly to call it that, but in Manitoba that's what it was called).

This meant the kids and I had to go live with my parents in an area unaffected by the flood, while my husband stayed back and tried to keep the river (and the pig barn goop from a couple miles up the road) from entering our house.

This proved impossible. Our house was flooded and essentially destroyed.

So now, here we were – two little kids, an unemployed mommy, a soon to be 'demoted' daddy and no house. Any one of these things can cause stress. This was a new experience for us; there was so much uncertainty; we were already in debt…we were definitely being shoved out of our comfort zone.

The desire to focus on all the things that were going wrong was huge, but we made a conscious decision not to do that. Instead, we focused on what was going well – we were all safe and sound (it took a bit of work to actually get my husband safely out of flood territory, but we did it); we had family that would allow us to stay with them (eventually the gov't moved a trailer onto our flooded property); and even if the job my husband was going to was a drop in pay and security it had potential and we knew he was very employable.

Now don't get me wrong. There were definitely moments when my elastic moved into the 8 or 9 range. Like when people started telling me, after our house was full of water, but before we could get back to it, that our drywall would swell and the pictures and things hanging on the walls, that I thought would be safe, would fall off and into the water. I started envisioning my university degrees and other precious items floating in my house and wanted to scream in frustration.

As soon as it was safe to do so, my husband rounded up a small group of men who boated in to see if this was true and gather the things I hadn't thought of packing when we left in April (like summer clothes, extra items for our growing baby and so on). It turns out the items on the wall were fine (what a waste of energy those worries had been), so my hubby gathered up the items I had requested, put them in a plastic bag to keep them dry and threw them in the boat.  Unfortunately, there was a hole in the bag and some boat gas spilled and found it's way inside.

Most of the things he brought home to me were ruined. 

What a mixed bag of emotions that created. My degrees and pictures were fine, but the things I needed and hadn't worried about at all were destroyed!

Despite this I still had this really strong sense that feeling like a victim, thinking I was being picked-on or throwing a pity party of any sort was not going to help the situation. I needed to trust everything would work out and focus my energy on looking after me, supporting my husband (who was still working throughout most of this) and being the best mommy I could possibly be to my two little ones.

So, we made a conscious effort to accept what was happening and continue with life. When one of us started to slip into the pit of despair, the other one was there to help pull them out. Sometimes I would stand strong to support my husband's momentary lapse and then I'd have to turn around and seek out my mom, dad, sister or friend to pull me back up. That's what a support system is all about – we just can't be afraid to use it.

Despite our financial situation, after 3 months of living in a trailer we made arrangements to carry a second mortgage (with help from family) and bought another house. Our house was written off and it turned out this was a good thing as it meant we got paid fair market value rather than the post flood value – which would have been nothing.

The corporation my husband worked for really surprised us when they experienced another change and decided not to close their doors. While many employees had already left my husband had not and now was in a great position to receive a promotion, which might normally have taken years to occur.

The fact I was unemployed made the move easier and allowed me to focus a lot of energy on ensuring the kids were properly looked after.

Now, I don't want you to think everything worked out because we refused to get stressed out over it – I can't guarantee that, although it has certainly been my experience in life. I do know that as a result of our refusal to see everything as bad or as punishment or unfair… we were healthier, we were better parents to our kids and our relationship was solid.

Tip 4 for living with stress = Perception; focus on what you can control – your response

It's not the amount of stress you have in your life that makes the difference – it's how you perceive the stress that is most important.

In summary, plus a bonus tip...

  1. Awareness: Become aware of how stress presents in your body and decide what number your elastic would currently be at (or average for the week).

  2. Inventory: Take stock of your stress reducing inventory – notice what tools, strategies and practices you have for overall life stress as well as those days when you don't have time or can't get away.

  3. Education: Make continual learning of a variety of stress reducing ideas a priority so that you are prepared no matter who is around or where you are the moment your stress starts to spike.

  4. Perception: Control what you can – notice how you are labeling things (i.e. listen to our good or bad podcast); focus on what's going right and accept what's going wrong. Remember what looks wrong in the moment, could end up being very right in the end.

  5. Self-Care: Take care of yourself when the going is good so that you have lots of positive energy to fall back on if the going gets tough.

Life is full of ups and downs. It's these moments which help us grow beyond our comfort zone that actually bring us to life. They don't always feel great when they are happening, but they feel a heck of a lot better when we make the effort to take back what control we can and refuse to allow it to stress us out.

With much respect for you and the journey you are on… I wish you a vibrant and powerful day.

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