Last week I talked about the delicate balancing act between pressure and performance and how we need to invite a little healthy stress into our lives if we actually want to get things done. The problem is, once stress gets its big fat foot in the door of your psyche it has a nasty habit of barging right in, making for the sofa and taking up unwelcome residence in the living room of your mind.
The fact is, once this happens, unwelcome stress can be quite hard to manage and even harder to eradicate. Many of us become so used to its presence we simply stop noticing it altogether, ignoring it like the proverbial big pink elephant in the room – allowing it to wreak havoc and leave a trail of destruction we wearily endure as the unavoidable status quo.
Clearly this destructive presence is not good for our personal wellbeing, let alone our ability to function productively. But all is not lost: if you are prepared to confront that pesky pink elephant there are three great strategies you can employ to tackle stress head on and turf it out, once and for all.
The first Stressbuster approach is ‘Action Oriented’. This means actively looking for steps to change the stressful environment or situation, thereby reducing its contributing stress factors. Otherwise known as ‘don’t just stand there, do something!’ this method has the power to shrink that pink elephant into submission until it is nothing but an ornamental souvenir of something you successfully overcame. Get creative and brainstorm your options – starting from as far out as the things you think you could absolutely never do in a blue moon, and working your way in to a real live plan you can put into action.
The next tactic is ‘Emotionally Oriented’. If you don’t have the power or ability to change the situation, try shifting your perspective to one that serves you better - i.e. one that doesn't make you feel stressed. Many stressful situations have a silver lining if you look hard enough to find them. Maybe your elephant is there to teach you something, give you greater endurance or empower you in some other way. Climb up on top of it where you have a better view of the big picture, choose a new vantage point and command that elephant to take you there. You may not have the power to physically change the situation, but you can often shift the situation's power balance with a different interpretation that makes you feel better about where you are and what’s happening.
The third Stress-busting strategy is ‘Acceptance Oriented’. When something really awful happens, ie a very upsetting event we have no hope of ever feeling positive about, we need to shift our focus to surviving the stress by making peace with it. Ignoring stress is extremely ineffective as, like a sulky child, that ignored and rejected elephant is going to do more and more damage in order to gain your attention until you really can’t turn your back on it any longer. But turning on it in anger is not going to help either. Rather than railing against it, ranting, resenting and allowing its presence to ruin our lives, we can choose to accept it as a small part of ourselves that will be with us forever. Kind of like those proud scars you have from childhood scrapes - and scar tissue is a lot stronger than regular flesh. Acceptance is at once both healing and calming – reducing the destructive power of unresolved stress and turning it into strengths we carry with us, in the form of resilience, endurance and stamina.
How do you handle stress?
Alison Rentoul is ex yacht crew with 15 years of yachting experience, and a professionally trained personal development coach working with crew worldwide, helping them realise their highest potential at every level. See www.thecrewcoach.com for more information.