- Sep 06
In my coaching work, it is now normal to hear about the extreme stress that my clients are experiencing. Stress isn’t a new thing, but I think it is currently far more intense and pervasive than what is once was, and it is taking a toll on engagement, productivity, relationships, and personal health.
Stress is a normal part of our existence.There is positive stress; like learning something new and negative stress; like our response to unrealistic deadlines or a massive workload. We have all experienced varying degrees of stress in our lives.
Stress is a response to a stimulus. This stimulus is what Jon Kabat-Zinn in ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ defines as a stressor. Stress is what we create in response to what we see as a stressor. A stressor can be an internal thought or an external event
The reality is that we create our stress in response to how we interpret what we see as a stressor. Each of us has our own versions of stress according to what triggers us.
In a time where technology has been designed to make our lives easier, it is actually becoming more complex and harder to know when to stop working. Our stressors are often those things that we have become reliant on, because we are now always accessible.
If we use our stress as information, what is it trying to tell us?
Generally, it is trying to tell us to find the space to stop and be kind to ourselves. We must learn new ways of finding the space to think clearly, choose wisely and be in control of how we operate in our lives. It is about embracing practices that will genuinely benefit us and how we live our lives.
It is well documented that prolonged high levels of stress are not healthy because of what it triggers psychologically and physiologically. But we often don’t know when we are stressed because it becomes our ‘normal’.
Below is a list of what I believe to be symptoms of stress. It is not exhaustive by any means, and many more can be added. They may help you to recognise the level and quality of stress you are experiencing:
- Feelings of little or no control – Feeling that you have little choice or control over your work. Everything is about ‘have to’ and ‘should’.
- Feeling overwhelmed – Feeling that there is simply too much to do in the time you have got.
- Not able to switch off – Bringing work home is sometimes necessary, but are you able to mentally switch off and not churn over work stuff when you don’t need to?
- Concerned about speaking up – Does it worry you that you can’t be honest about the project that you know is going to be delayed, or the work that you know you are just not able to get done?
- Feeling unsupported.
- Unable to be present – Your mind is full of every thought other than what is going on in your present.
- Unmotivated – You are finding it difficult to find the energy required to engage or find the meaning you used to in your work.
- Staying too long at work – Not staying at work because you have work to complete, but because you ‘should’ and it is believed that working working long hours equates to working ‘hard’.
- Not feeling good enough – Feeling that we should be able to cope emotionally and technically, but know deep down that we are not. This leads to feelings and thoughts of not being good enough to do your job.
- Coming home as your worst self – Who are you when you get home from work? Are you your best self to those you love?
If you experience any of these:
- Are you happy knowing that this is how you are feeling and thinking?
- What would need to happen for you to start addressing your level of stress?
Here are some suggestions that you can consider taking on as a regular practice that will help you to productively manage your stress:
- Speak to someone
Find the courage to ask for help, even if it is just to be listened to. A friend or a professional; anyone who will support you in feeling that you are okay. Don’t keep it to yourself.
Concentrating on your breathing puts your head in touch with your body. Breath deeply into your lungs and stomach. It will create emotional and mental space for you.
To meditate is to give yourself the time to know yourself. It is a practice of non judgmental observation of our thoughts and feelings. Pema Chodron says that meditation ‘is how we stop fighting with ourselves, how we stop struggling with circumstances, emotions, or moods’ (When Things Fall Apart. Pema Chodron. 1997)
- See people and the world around you
Make a conscious effort to actually see people; focus on taking in the colour of their hair or the colour of their eyes for example. When did you last look out the window and appreciate what you see? This is a great practice for presence.
- Raise your head
Put your phone down, and close the lid on your lap top. It is not really possible to connect with people and be present when you are looking at a screen.
- Exercise compassion for yourself
We see compassion as being something we give to someone else, we rarely consider that we can have compassion for ourselves. A simple sentence ‘I am okay and enough just as I am’ will begin to develop self care and the sense that you are actually good enough and okay in any situation.
Develop your skills of communication by negotiating priorities. Everything may be a priority to the person asking you, but you only have so many hours in a day. What can be moved down the list of priorities so you can focus on this new priority?
- Make friends with yourself
We can talk to ourselves very harshly. We can be our harshest critic. If you spoke to other people like you speak to yourself, how manyfriends would you have? Be kind to yourself and accept that you aren’t perfect, nor will ever be. You are okay exactly as you are. Make space for yourself, welcome yourself and give yourself space to just be.
These practices will begin to help you manage your stress if you practice them regularly. You may never be able to change the stressors, but you can change how you interpret them by changing your thinking and emotions.
David Smith is the Principle Insights Coach at Smidj. His work centres on creating organisations where leaders learn how to connect effectively with their teams through learning self awareness and skills of compassion and communication.