We all live in a world where we have stressors all around us and our ability to manage stress becomes an element that determines how successful we are in whatever we do.
As with everything else in life, stress also has two faces. One kind of stress allows us to be alert and in the moment and leads us to be at our best. The other kind of stress takes a toll on our abilities and leads us to perform at far lower levels than we are capable of. The truth of the matter is that it is not the stressors that are different but our reaction to the stressors that are different. So, the same stressor can have either positive or negative impact on us and on our performance depending upon how we react to them.
So, managing stress is probably is a misnomer. We should probably be talking about responding to stress.
Responding to stress:
It is absolutely critical that each one of us identify and practice a healthy response to stress and make it a habit. I am the sort of person that takes on too much stress and even at times thrives on the physiological response to stress. What this means is that there is a very good chance that every time I get stressed, I may go overboard and my response to the stress becomes more hurting than beneficial. The hurting can happen by way of me becoming extremely cynical or even feel depressed. However, I also thrive on the same stress.
When I was asked to come up with a short video (by BJ Fogg) about how I respond to stress that leads to a more positive outcome, I sat down to reflect on the times when stress actually led me to create something that I would not have normally created. And here are the habits that have helped me convert the stress into positive actions:
1. Talking to someone:
Having someone to talk to without inhibitions is extremely helpful. For me, that person is my wife. I tell her about everything that stresses me. Just the act of talking out loud about what is stressing allows me to release the tension that builds within. At times, it also allows me to see the absurdity of the stuff that I am stressing out about. A lot of times, she tells me how absurd it is to sit and stress about something rather than doing something about the stressor. In all, having someone who can take a call and either comfort you or chide you depending on what we need is a big help in responding well to stress.
The second thing that has helped me a lot is to be in nature (physically or psychologically). I love sunsets. Whenever I am outside and it is time for sunset, my eyes instinctively looks for a way to watch the sun go down. I also like the sound of flowing water, the silence of the woods and everything that goes with being silently a part of nature. If I am in a room and not in nature physically, I find a way to transport myself into nature through my imagination (with a little help from the internet). I hear the sound of flowing water or rain falling in a forest or birds chirping. This calms me down and helps me look at the stressor very differently than how I originally saw it, thereby altering my response to it.
3. Working through the stress:
There have been times when I have decided to work through the stress and not respond to it. My first book “Your Startup Mentor” was created in one such moment. I was extremely stressed out about something and instead of thinking about what was causing me to be so stressed, I decided to instead focus on something that I have always wanted to – write a book. I took out a notebook (physical) and wrote for the next 4 hours. That became the first draft of my business poem, which got eventually published. My podcast came about in a similar situation. I was extremely stressed about something happening at work and didn’t want to think about it. I was listening to a lot of podcasts at that time and on a whim decided that I want to start a podcast. I reached out to 5 people and decided that even if a couple of them agreed to be interviewed by me, I will figure out the rest. Eventually, all five of them ended up on my show, but three of the five immediately responded immediately and the show was born.
There is nothing that can beat stress like play can. It can be any kind of play. The more physical it is the better. Physical activities allow us to produce neuro-chemicals which neutralises the neuro-chemicals that we produce when we are stressed. No stress neurochemicals, no stress. Going out for a run, playing a sport, even walking helps. I prefer taking long walks.
As I have grown older and started to read and understand Indian mythology and therefore Indian philosophy, I have learnt to keep things in perspective. The first three habits are about responding to stress. This one is about not getting stressed at all. The more I learn about the wisdom of men who lived here before me, the more I realise that it is much better to keep things in perspective and not allow anything to stress you. I have learnt that we get stressed when there is a mismatch between our expectation and reality. I have also learnt that we can’t control reality through our expectations. The more expectations we have, the more stress we have. So, its much better to just do our work and not create many expectations. In fact, I have now reached a state of mind where I strongly believe the following – “To each his Own”. Just this one belief has radically changed my perspective on stress caused by other people.
Depending on where I am (office, home, traveling, etc) and what stresses me, I try to choose one of these responses. Like everyone else, I am not perfect. I still get stressed out and perform badly sometimes. But I am finding myself more and more in a relaxed state of mind by not allowing anything to stress me than to manage or respond to stress, once I am stressed. Someone was wise enough to say – “Prevention is better than cure”.
I would recommend that you do this exercise in self-reflection to find out how you typically respond to stress and what kind of responses have helped you deal with stress leading to a positive outcome. Then be conscious of this choice the next time you get stressed about something.