Identifying the true source of stress
Taking an hour a day to be alone with your thoughts will enable you
to truly figure out what is stressing you. During that hour, you may
notice that your mind is blank and nothing happens. That is perfect! Use
the time to relax! But give it some time. You will see soon enough that
things will just start popping up in your mind.
i.e. : That Janet at work just gets on my last nerve. She always
contradicts what I say in front of the boss and I simply cannot work
|Why is Janet stressing me?
|Is the situation Novel?
No, Janet has been doing this for a long time now.
|Is the situation Unpredictable?
||No, Janet does it like clockwork.
|Is there a Threat?
||BINGO, by contradicting me in front of the boss she calls into question my competence as an employee.
|Is my Sense of control lowered?
||Perhaps a little, the way things stand, I don’t feel I have much control over the situation at work.
You have already eliminated two potential factors that are triggering
your stress response (novelty and unpredictability), leaving you with
two explanations (threat to ego and low sense of control). Now, things
are already less mixed up in your mind.
A well-defined problem is a problem almost solved
In this instance, seeking support from your spouse/friend can be very
good because we can present a calmer and more accurate picture to them.
Given that we are not so emotional about things our spouse/friend has a
better chance of being objective and asking the right questions to help
us further analyze the situation to come up with a solution.
You- “I find it hard to work with Janet because her actions cause me to question my competence at work”.
Spouse- “How was your last performance review at work”??
You- “It was very good. Come to think of it, the areas I could improve on are not the things she contradicts me on”.?
Spouse-“Could she feel that her job is in jeopardy, does she need to prove herself”?
You- “You could be right… there have been major budget cuts and we have similar responsibilities”.
You have no control over how Janet feels and acts but you can control
how you deal with her challenges. When she contradicts your view in
front of the boss, you could ask her to explain the reasoning behind her
point. You could also speak to her directly and ask her why she does
If your attempts to smooth things over with Janet don’t work or if
being direct is not your cup of tea, then focus on the important facts.
Although she challenges you, your employers seem to be more than happy
with your work. Simply bringing this to mind can decrease your body’s
response to the stressor. We mentioned in "On the Spot Stress
Management" that being on the spot can be good to bring to the mind a
positive image to blunt your stress response. Calling to mind the
conclusions you come to in your hour alone are just as effective!
For many, stress management translates to relaxation. But, the
flip-side of stress is not relaxation but rather resilience. Simply put,
resilience refers to a healthy ability to come up with a ‘Plan B’ in
the face of a stressful situation.
To come up with a Plan B we must be able to identify, think about,
and deconstruct the situation that resulted in stress. Coming up with
Plan B can sometimes be anxiety-provoking, as many of us feel that Plan B
must be put into motion. In reality, most Plan B’s never see the light
of day, and this is perfectly fine because the simple act of putting it
together can make a difference.
i.e.: “My work stresses me because we never know how long the company
will stay afloat. This unpredictability is killing me. What’s my Plan
B? Find another job, OK, I’m done, there is not much else I could do.”
Wrong! Think again and take the time to truly explore all avenues. “Oh
yes, at Easter last year, my brother-in-law mentioned that my experience
with heavy metals would be a great asset in that government agency….”
The mere act of coming up with a Plan B will increase your sense of
control over the situation and decrease the impact of the source of
stress, in this case, unpredictability. So even if the stressor is still
present, you have developed resilience.
|Take home message
Find some time to be alone and regroup. Your stressors will make
their way into your thoughts and you can then figure out what it is
about the situation that is stressful (N.U.T.S.). You can then get some
support from those around you and come up with a Plan B. Calling up that
Plan B in times of stress (in addition to the tips we gave you in the
“On the spot stress management ”) can help to reduce your body’s stress response. With time
and practice, you may notice that only half of your hour alone is needed
to deal with stress, the rest can turn into a stimulating time that is
indeed quite pleasant. What might joy and laughter have to teach us?