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Stress – how to own it and do something about it.

Jun 28, 2021

Open minds lead to open doors

One of my daughters came home from school the other day and said she was stressed because of her Mock GCSEs. My brother-in-law said he’s having a stressful time at work at the moment because of all the deadlines which are being imposed by his new manager. My friend says she’s stressed because her Mum is starting to behave erratically, and she’s worried it might be the early stages of dementia.

Stress. It’s a word we often hear. Some people use it informally to perhaps describe a time when they have a lot to do – they’re busy and maybe concerned about how they’ll get it all done; others will use the word when they feel everything is closing in on them and are in a state of high anxiety. It’s all relative and who are we to make judgements about how one person’s stress compares to another’s and the effect it can have? 

During these times, it’s important to consider your mindset when you’re feeling like things are getting too much and to remember the brain cannot be in an open and resourceful state when you’re panicking, feeling like there’s no way out.

Have you noticed when you’re feeling anxious and stressed, finding a solution to a problem seems to elude you? When tense, you're generally in a negative state and your brain becomes in a way, closed off and thus finding creative solutions is more difficult.

When you allow yourself to feel stressed, you are putting a huge amount of pressure on yourself.

I always use the example of a set of doors – I can actually visualise them in a semi-circle in my head, and this helps me to calm down. All the answers I need are behind those doors. And if I don’t yet know the answers, my ability to be resourceful and find an answer, also lies behind those doors. When I feel in a panic, like a rabbit in headlights, I am unable to be solution-orientated because all of those doors are closed, locked, and the key isn’t under the doormat. I need those doors to be open. When I can think in a rational way, the doors fling open and voila! I can work out a solution to the problem. The brain can come up with new ideas, images, creativity and so forth, when it is in operating in a calm state. It’s about being self-aware and recognising when things are reaching fever pitch. Take your foot off the gas... and breathe. Slow everything right down and that's when the good ideas – those solutions, the different ways of thinking about an issue, start to flow.

Strong belief triggers the mind to find the how.

When you are relaxed and have a strong, positive belief that you can find answers to problems, your brain is mobilised to seek and present solutions to your conscious mind. When you are stressed and negative, finding creative solutions becomes much more difficult or even impossible. Next time you need an answer to a challenge, try to give your brain the twin fuels of time and belief.  “I know there is an answer to this, and it will come to me” is a powerful affirmation to repeat to yourself.  Then stop thinking about it for a few hours. You may well find the answer bubbling up in your mind when you least expect it to.

Andrew Bernstein’s quote is a thought-provoking one but echoes a Winning Edge mindset: “The truth is that stress doesn't come from your manager, your children, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances.” Wow. Ever thought of it like that? It's the way you think about what you think about - you can choose your response to all of these circumstances and the level of stress you assign to each one is within your control. Whilst you might not be in total control of what happens, you are in control of how you respond.

I'm not saying it's necessarily easy in a challenging situation to be composed but we do have the ability and therefore this makes it much more likely our brain can support us to move forwards, rather than to feel stuck.

Great expectations

Sometimes, our stress is not about all that we have going on in our lives but is more about the expectations we have – the way we think people should behave, or the way we want situations to play out. We feel stressed when these expectations are not met. And yet, who is responsible for all our expectations? We are!

If we have certain expectations of how other people should behave, or the level of service we should receive from a shop or restaurant, how people should drive, park, load a dishwasher and so forth, that’s down to us. With 7.5 billion people in this world, should we expect everyone to behave as we do? To drive like us? To be tidy like us? To load a dishwasher like us? To arrive on time like us?

It helps to understand other people’s Mental Maps. A Mental Map is the way you think the world should operate. It’s where your expectations are formed. It’s drawn from your past experiences and conditioning. It’s your opinion and expectations of the way the world should be. And your Mental Map doesn’t describe how it is, but how you think it is.

You’re not born with a Mental Map, it develops over time and reflects your own consciously chosen individual values, beliefs, expectations, experience, interests and paradigms – or those you’ve subconsciously adopted. One way to illustrate this is by asking two people where the top ten places are to visit in London. You’re unlikely to get an identical answer.

Everyone has a different Mental Map so it’s about not making assumptions that everyone is the same or should be. And it’s not about lowering our expectations or standards to the point where we never get disappointed, it’s that our expectations should be high but realistic.

Dear stress, let’s break up

It’s important to get your head around the fact that we can own our own stress – because it’s down to the type of thoughts we are having around the situation – whether it be exams, work, another person’s words or actions. This is not in any way negating the importance it means to you as an individual, it’s understanding that you can calm your thoughts to be better able to cope with the situation and to find answers if that is what’s needed.

Everything in life is relative and we each have our own tipping point however our mindset determines how we deal with challenging situations. It is our mindset and how we choose to react both in the immediacy of the situation as well as over time, that will affect our general demeanour and outlook. It’s about owning our feelings and emotions – they are a direct result of our thinking so when we can consciously manage this, we’re on the right track to leading a life where we feel much more in control of our thoughts and feelings, and we know the blame lays solely with us with regards to our responses to those around us and events which take place.

You get to decide the amount of value and meaning you give those things that you feel ‘stress you out’. Of course, there are situations in life, those curve balls that might create havoc, devastation. Over time are key words here allowing our self some space and time to adjust and work out how we want to think and feel.

But the irritants in life, do they really warrant taking up so much headspace?

When you feel the stress levels rising, ask yourself:

  • How do I want to think about this?
  • How do I want to feel about this?
  • How much time, thought and energy do I want to donate to this? 10-minutes? 30 minutes? A day?
  • Is this something I will be worrying about next week? Next month? Next year?

These questions will help you to gain perspective.

Some issues do require you to process them and work out an answer. Others might be irritants in your life – the kids playing their music too loud, the neighbours not fixing the fence, middle lane drivers. Put up or shut up. Do something or stop complaining because you have three courses of action:

  1. Change the way you think about it.
  2. Change your process / what you do.
  3. OR carry on feeling stressed.

All stress is caused by our thoughts and interpretation of the situation. Therefore, we put ourselves under stress – people don’t do it to us. There are no stressful jobs, there are jobs people can’t cope with. Parents can’t stress us out (try telling my teenagers that!) and neither can our children (I don’t tell them that!). This does not remove the responsibility of parents, managers, partners, friends, our children, from behaving responsibly and respectfully towards others but it does mean we need to own our stress and find a way of navigating our way out of it. We can use our mindset or perhaps getting external help is sometimes required when we have allowed the situation to become prolonged.

You can own your stress – that’s personal accountability and it’s also courageous, as is holding the people responsible who are contributing to the situation you are finding stressful.

The day we are able to look in the mirror and know that we are both the problem but also have access to the answer is the day we can free ourselves, or at least get to work on, our stress.

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Do you feel stressed on a regular basis? Do you find it hard to keep these feelings under control?

If you feel this is an area which needs work, the Mindset Coaching Membership can help you understand the tools and strategies needed. With Masterclass Teachings + Coaching + Accountability, we will help you to create the future you want. Find out more here.

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