A lot of people cope with stress by going to the gym, jogging, playing with the dog, reading a book, etc. – these things relax us, tire us, and help us to not think about the stress that we feel/felt. But even when we think we are good at dealing with stress, when confronted with a similar situation, your stress levels can shoot up even faster, because – let’s face it – you’ve been there before.
Stress at work takes on a life of its own
Deadlines, targets, budgets, schedules, colleagues, clients and expectations – just a few causes of stress at work. Before you know it stress is a living thing that lurks in the corners or takes a seat at the meeting table. One moment it talks through Steve, whose eternal negativity about suppliers causes others to roll their eyes, then through a client who’s asking for the impossible. It comes and goes as it pleases, clinging onto this person or that and lingering in the elevator, or worse, by the water cooler.
The stresses of past, present and future
The future that is thought of, imagined and discussed so very often at work and at home causes people to lose sight of the now. You stretch yourself three months ahead, a year, even five years. You already know exactly where you’ll be on October the 14th this year (and you’re not looking forward to it). We anticipate future scenarios and get stressed by what has yet to happen. We live our lives with our feet in the moment and our heads in the future. And in business this is the norm – everything you do today is ideally based on a future goal. As best as you can, you try to stretch and influence your way towards that future. This means that sometimes you are often not fully considering what is really happening with you right now. The futures we create are heavily based on our experiences so far – and how we feel right now.
And then there’s the past. Who doesn’t get lost in things they should’ve done or said, and who doesn’t let experiences from the past influence future decisions? We all do…it’s normal. Finally, how much time did you spend today not working on something for the near or far future?
The existence of stress is optional
Try seeing it this way: The presence of stress is a message to your “system”. Our bodies are great at giving us messages of whatever kind, thanks to our senses. Our fight-or-flight response to stress has helped humanity survive but, contrary to prehistoric times, today we don’t remove ourselves from stress – we can’t. Because it exists everywhere.
Sleepless nights, sweaty palms or butterflies in your stomach is your body’s way of saying “You deserve to know what you need to know”. It’s doing what it can to give you the message, and it won’t stop until you listen. Why? Because it wants you to succeed, why else.
Once we recognize this, the existence of stress can become optional when you learn to release it for good. This is something you can teach yourself. Like data on a computer, you can delete the stress from your system. Try seeing it as simply as searching for outdated or unwanted stress programs and hitting shift+delete. Here are 2 practical exercises that can help you eliminate (some of) your stress.
Exercise 1: Erase the future in 20-30 minutes
Take a pen and paper and write down all the things you want/need to be successful/happy/stress-free right now. Word it as positively as you can: don’t say “less stress at work” – stress is what you don’t need. For example:
- An optimal work environment
- Time to relax
- Trust in myself and in others
Write down only the things you want to have. You know what they are!
Sit on the ground, with your legs folded in front of you. Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply and slowly – a few times until your thoughts and breath are calm. Straighten your spine, move your shoulders up and back (opening your chest) and breathe in as deep as you can, first through your stomach, then into your lungs, then exhale calmly. Do this until you feel relaxed.
Imagine you’re looking at a horizontal line in front of you. At the very beginning of it, there’s you, a perpendicularly placed line. You represent the now. (You can draw it on paper if it helps you visualize it, but with a pencil and you need an eraser.) The horizontal line represents the future, everything that isn’t now. It doesn’t matter what that line represents to you, positive, negative, a combination of both, financially, emotionally, physically, professionally – task-wise, team-wise, family-wise, etc. Stress=stress.
Pick up an eraser, real or imaginative, and wipe out that line – up until the point where you stand, in the now. While you erase the line, be aware of the future stresses you’re wiping out and of how open/exciting/empty the future suddenly becomes. You can name your stresses if you want before you wipe them away, or you can wipe out the line in one move – do whatever works for you.
Now, there’s only you left, the stress-free vertical line in an empty space. Imagine you’re moving around freely in the space. There are no expectations anymore. Everywhere you turn, there is only you in the now – nothing else and you take a moment to enjoy it.
When you’re ready, take the list that you prepared. Read out loud, in this way: Now I have… (an optimal team environment). Now I have… (time to relax), etc. Read the sentences until you feel that the message you’re sending to your system has registered.
When you’re ready, leave the space.
Exercise 2: A 10-minute goodbye to stress
Is stress is a tangible presence on the office floor? Does it negatively affect the atmosphere or productivity? Then it’s time to show it the door – and here’s how…
Write down in one sentence what the environment will be like once the stress leaves. For example: This environment is open to productivity, teamwork and respect.
Think of and picture a stressful scenario in detail. Become aware of how it makes/made you feel, think about the root cause, the people involved. Don’t rush this – the more awareness you build of the stress the better. Take a moment to recognize the feelings that come/came with the stress, the consequences of the stress, the outcome, etc.
If you have any final words for the stress, now is the time to say them. If you don’t, that’s fine. When you’re ready, accompany the stress outside. Open the door and ask it to leave. You might have to persist. Like a guest who has outstayed their welcome, don’t expect it to find its way out alone. Show it out the office, down the corridor, into the elevator – you may have to escort it all the way out the front door.
You wouldn’t be here without the stress. As much as you disliked having it around, it served a purpose. It got you to see that it needed to go, right? That’s something to be grateful for. Write down or say out loud 7-10 honest reasons why you’re grateful…(the amount of reasons is important, yet difficult, because most of your memory of the stress is probably negative), take a look at these examples:
- I’m grateful for being able to let it go
- I’m grateful for what it taught me
- I’m grateful for the positive outcome
Lastly, read out the sentence from part 1 of this exercise until you feel that the message(s) you’re sending has registered.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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