The power is in your hands
The idea of self-awareness being the first link in the “wellness chain” is something I advocate quite strongly. From personal experience (and consultation with many medical professionals), it’s evident that the only person who can ultimately manage your stress is you. Once you are able to identify when your body is having a stress reaction, and you have identified the major stimuli that invoke this reaction, you can start becoming proactive in how you go about gaining control of the various curve balls, stumbling blocks and other metaphorical traps life has in store for us.
The logic here is simple: empower yourself and build your resilience by doing something about those things you can control, so that when the things out of your control happen, you have some reserves left and won’t be knocked completely flat.
I come from an analytical and structured background and have spent most of my life solving problems with the aid of models, concepts and strategies. This has been useful – being able to use a dispassionate two-dimensional model to gain some order out of the chaos/anarchy of an urban existence is
The 4A model is just such a tool. Go through the list of stressors you identified since the last column – Stress self-awareness: identifying your stress levels and your personal stressors – and assign an “A” to each (see the example at the end of this article).
• Avoid – Psychologists often talk about avoidance being unhealthy – you need to confront and resolve issues. That’s true, but if those issues, situations or people are causing you negative stress and they can be avoided without incurring another negative or just deferring suffering until later, then avoidance is appropriate.
• Alter – Knowing what makes you stressed already helps bring a sense of control to your environment. We are afraid of the unknown, and fear can be crippling. Let others know what your limits are; learn to say “No” and to delegate more effectively (more about that and basic energy-management techniques in a future column). If someone is upsetting you – let them know. If you don’t speak out, you drastically limit your ability to have a positive impact on the situation and increase the likelihood that “life will happen to you”.
• Adapt – Are you an urgency driven, my-way-or-the-highway perfectionist with a “Type-A” personality? As much as you might not like to hear this, you are often the cause of your own stress. Learn to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself: “Will this matter in a month or a year from now?” Sometimes “good enough” is just that – good enough; striving for perfection is not always appreciated or necessary and the only one suffering is you.
• Accept – When all else fails, you need to learn to let go. Intellectually you probably know you need to do this, but many battle to get it right. Talk the situation through with someone, an objective third party often sheds new light on things we are too involved with to see. Learn the lessons from previous experiences, and use them to help you avoid the same situation, adapt to it or alter it in the future.
Remember that stress is an individual stimulus-response transaction; different people are likely to employ different strategies for the same stressor.
But, and it is a big BUT, we all know the danger of strategies – they are useless dust-gatherers unless they are effectively implemented. Woody Allen once said that “80 percent of success is showing up”. In reality, the true value lies in the execution. Take ownership of your stress and practise these strategies daily.
In the next column we will introduce you to six tools in the resilience-building toolkit – no-cost things you can start practising right away.
Stress busting tip # 2: DANCE!
Most of us enjoy some kind of music – music that makes us feel good, excited, happy, energised.
Dancing is just another form of physical exercise, and exercise is good for us physiologically and psychologically:
• It helps the body “mop up” many of the so called stress-hormones;
• It releases other chemicals that make us feel good;
• It increases our metabolism and helps burn fat;
• It increases oxygen flow;
• It helps us get a better night’s sleep.
So, go home, close the curtains (so the neighbours can’t see you!), crank up the volume and get boogying!
FREE Personal Stress Assessment
As a reader of SHEQ Management you can take a confidential stress self-awareness survey that was compiled by several doctors.
Go to www.vitalstest.com and enter
sheq759 as the “employer code” and follow the simple on-screen instructions. Towards the end of this series of articles, we
will bring you the aggregated results; but don’t worry, your confidentiality is assured – your answers will be known only
Richard Hawkey, author of Life Less Lived and founder of equilibriumsolutions, spent many years pounding the corporate treadmill until literally falling off; diagnosed with burnout and clinical depression. Now, Hawkey has combined his general management and leadership experience with lessons learnt from mismanaging stress, to become a self-styled anti-stress evangelist. He specialises in identifying stress in oneself and others; the personal and professional impacts; and how one can break out of the negative spiral and emerge vigorous and vital to realise quantifiable benefits.