Have you have ever been in a stressful situation – what am I saying?
Of course you have.
Everybody has been, and go through stressful situations nearly everyday of their lives – stress is a natural fact of life.
So why do people spend so much time and money fighting it?
Well I guess the reason is principally a question of perception:
For some mountain climbing gives a feeling of excitement that can be almost addictive – whilst others, feel the negative effects of stress when climbing a small step-ladder.
Some people, speaking in front of a handful of people during a presentation can turn into gibbering wrecks, whilst some get a distinct buzz of excitement performing in front of a sell-out stadium venue.
Stress is both a naturally occurring phenomena as well as a vital part of life, present in humans and animals alike – as a natural mechanism in our defences, triggered by the chemicals cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine.
When these powerful chemical get out of hand, they can cause damage in extreme cases of chronic or extreme stress, which can lead to psychological and physiological problems – this is when stress can cause harm. Here we are talking about the low to medium levels of stress experienced in everyday life.
We often talk about adrenaline rushes when we are pumped and excited – as our senses are sharpened and we become invigorated – it produces a state of mind, that we often misinterpret as stressful in the negative sense of the term.
If we make the distinction between “good stress” – that which invigorates and sharpens, and bad stress, that which makes our palms sweat, our breathing become erratic and our voices stick in our throats – then we can perhaps, start understanding ourselves and how we can attempt to manage our stress levels.
Again, it is a matter of perception – why try to temper down the excitement of a roller-coaster ride or a descent on skis, when this is the very sensation that is sought out?
Stress needs to be managed not eliminated – what a boring world it would be if stress were eliminated …
Don’t get rid of your stress – unless it is really extreme, then you should consult medical health – manage it!
Ever watched a presentation where the presenter presented the subject in a low monotone voice – this could be evidence of a stressless presenter, but wow, how boring.
Stress is energy and needs to treated thus – targeted, focused and put to the correct use – a huge asset just waiting to be used to give the cutting-edge to all who get to use it effectively.
If you feel stressed, say, just before giving a presentation – you may feel a certain level of helplessness, nervousness, fidgety, lack of concentration (this is not strictly true as you are concentrating hard on all the negative what-if’s), disempowerment and helplessness.
The idea is to change our existing coping techniques, by focusing the brain on the positives and turning the negative stress that is felt into positive, energising power.
Of course the simplest advice is to try to avoid situations which cause extremes of stress, this is not always practically possible, so here are some techniques to help confront these contexts effectively:
1. Breathe slowly – concentrate on breathing – take a breath through the mouth, count 3 seconds, a good way of timing is to use the word “elephant”, 1 elephant, 2 elephants, 3 elephants … hold the breath for 2 seconds then breathe out through the nose for 3 seconds. This breathing exercise should be deep – concentrate on moving your belt when doing this -do this 3 or 4 times. Take a breath through the mouth, count 5 seconds … hold the breath for 3 seconds then breathe out through the nose for 4 seconds. Do this for a further 3 times – finally, Take a breath through the mouth, count 7 seconds … hold the breath for 4 seconds then breathe out through the nose for 5 seconds. Do this 3 times – then inverse the breathing, do the same but start by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.
2. Speak more slowly – try to speak more slowly when you are feeling extremely stressed, this also gives you time to think more clearly and you will sound and appear less stressed.
3. Verify Posture – bad posture such as slumped shoulders, crossed arms and locked knees can lead to stress by causing muscle tension which is then transferred to the body and finally through speech. Flex the hands, unclench the teeth, toes and hands – stand up straight – shrug the shoulders and let them fall naturally a few times (the shoulder bounce), stretch and yawn (if nobody is watching) to release tension in the jaw and limbs.
4. Project – if you are stressed just before a meeting or a presentation. Think about a time when you undertook a similar situation that you felt good about and felt a degree of success, anchor that feeling, how good did it feel? Keep that in mind, rather than our usual tendency to think about all that will go wrong – think about that went well and carry that with you into the room.
5. Be Perfect – no, don’t even try to be this – perfectionism is one of the biggest sources of stress in life – be yourself and use your assets to the best. If you set your sites on perfection, you need to have a robust recovery mechanism in place as you will never reach perfection – don’t even bother, just do your best, nobody will ask for more.
6. Talk – to others, share your feelings honestly and candidly with people you trust. This can help in many ways to de-dramatize stressful situations, even if it only to help put things into perspective, but can also be the source of further coping techniques. Bottling-up feelings is another cause of stress.
7. Weigh things up – Think about the importance of the situation in the scheme of things – will it be that important in a week, a month a year? If your answer is no, think about why you are reacting thus today, which is just causing stress – it just does not seem that important now, does it?
8. Control what you can control – There are lots of things in life that are out of our hands, especially when it comes to other people. You just can’t win here, so don’t even bother stressing over this but keep your focus on what you can control and shift your energy to doing just that. If the situation which causes you stress involves other people, you cannot control the way they are – you can, however, control your behaviour and the way you react to the situation though.
9. Look for opportunities – If you are encountering stressful situations, think of them as learning and development opportunities placed before you to help you to grow. Reflect and learn from each situation and endeavor to change the way you reacted or behaved to them the next time – grow and learn continually.
10. Always look on the bright side – remember the final scene from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” – humour is a great de-stresser, triggering chemical releases in the brain which help fight stress. Think of funny situations etc. to bring your stress levels back down. I find that using appropriate humour at the start of a presentation helps de-stress myself and the audience – it has to be at an opportune moment and in an appropriate setting.
Just remember, the goal is to manage stress – not eliminate it all together, we all need energy and enthusiasm, good stress is just that.
If you have got any tips to help manage stress – I’d love to hear them, and it will certainly help our readers – please comment below.