Tame Your Stress
Picture a Regular Working Day
You wake-up happy one day…
- It is quite windy. You stop for gas. As you fill your car, your hat flies off. Back in the car, your hair looks as if it just came out of the blender. Not quite the image you were intending for your meeting this morning with this important client who hasn’t met you before.
- Through the day, you are plowing your way through the usual unmet-dead-lines, misunderstandings & lack of communication, the auditors’ reports, the security follow-ups and suddenly you receive a call from school that your daughter has fell and they are suspecting she broke her arm. You can hear her crying in the background. You try to delegate to the very people who lack the communication & leadership skills as you rush to the school.
- Nancy rushes after you… “Hey, it is going to be OK. There you forgot your coffee. You do need a warm beverage on this cold day.” Nancy has always been a good friend.
- You take your seat. You press the gas and the wheels squeak as you speed-up down the road. Just as you pick-up the coffee, your eyes meet the highway that looks like a huge jammed parking lot. You slam the driving wheel, the cup wiggles in your hand and lands lid-free on your lap. You then realize how considerate Nancy was to bring you this boiling hot beverage and you aren’t sure if the smoke coming from your lap is just the coffee or your evaporating skin as well.
- From your wrist watch to the unmoving highway, your eyes keep switching until you feel that your pupils got stuck and they can’t move anymore in your eye-socket
Yes, sometimes stress is inevitable.
So what do you think causes stress?
- Unmet Expectations or
- Unfortunate Incidents or
- Unpleasant Situations or
- Unplanned Changes or ....
Psychologists and psychotherapists suggest that it is none of the above. It is our mental reaction to all of the above.
Let’s elaborate, shall we?
- Unmet Expectations
- Unfortunate Incidents
- Unpleasant Situations
- Unplanned Changes
We’ll refer to as “The Trigger”.
An unfortunate incident or an unpleasant situation surfaces; we interpret such incident using our thoughts,
- The hat, the hair, the meeting à This is an important client. I really wanted to draw a good first-impression. The way you dress is your non-verbal communication. How will he perceive me now? He may think I am not professional. Non-verbal communication is 60% of the communication. Now he won’t tae me seriously. What do I do? How do I still manage to get a good first-impression? How wasn’t I careful? This isn’t the first hat I lose to gusty wind. This is the 8th for God’s sakes.
With such chatter going on in your head, how do you think you’ll act?
Upbeat and excited?
I highly doubt that.
- During the meeting, you are both alerted and wanting to fly low under the radar. Two contradicting attitudes. Do you start off with a joke? No, he may not take you seriously, remember? Do you go straight to business and brush away his jokes if he jokes? Do you stand-up and run a presentation? No, too much spot light for a messy hairdo. Before you know it, the meeting is over and you can’t even remember what he said, what you said, what you agreed on or whether or not he is interested.
- Through the day, based on all the stress you put yourself under, you are less tolerate to the missed deadlines, the security nagging, the auditor’s policing. You lash out at those who report to you. You glare at those who are your level. You murmur in frustration at those whose level is higher than yours. But that’s not your nature. You are a nice person. Well, not anymore.
- Without realizing, you are now enslaved by your own emotions – you are quite helpless. “Oh, I hate that.” Some people would like to voice their feelings… “I hate that.” Once we voice it out and we hear ourselves, we believe in it even more, so our feelings get validated, which in turn transform into our decisions, actions and behaviors, over time our repetitive behaviors shape our character and it is our character that charts our destiny.
Do you see how stress is really our mental reaction to all the above U’s?
What happens when you get stressed?
Your brain and body change without consulting with you.
How Stress Affects Your Brain
Let’s talk about your brain. The brain has many functional centers. For the sake of this presentation, I’ll talk about only two centers:
- The Control Center
- The CEO Center
The Control center is the center that evaluates threats and regulates the release of the cortisol hormone, a hormone released when the brain senses danger. It also produces the Serotonin hormone, which creates a sense of well-being.
The CEO center is exactly as the name implies, this is where functions like: memory, focus, attention, goals, learning, thinking, decision-making, planning, mobility, reflexes, motivation and breathing exist.
As stress starts seeping inside you, more cortisol gets released, less serotonin gets produced and before you know it, the freeze, fight or flight mood gets engaged. When this mood gets engaged, the power gets withdrawn from the CEO center and your ability to focus, remember, plan or think starts to decline. The more stressed you remain, the less power your CEO center has. The less active any center of your brain becomes, the smaller it gets.
Studies proved that people with chronic stress did in-fact lose up to 25% of the size of their CEO center.
How Stress Affects Your Body
What about your body? How does stress affects your body?
The freeze, fight or flight mood in the brain, affects:
1) Your Heart
- More blood flow to your skeletal muscles
- Speeding in your heart rate
- Increase in your blood pressure
Which combined increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and higher cholesterol
2) Your Head
- Feel angry & irritated
- Get headaches
3) Your Intestines
- Decreased nutrient absorption
- Reduced metabolism
Which combined causes immense weight-gain
4) Your Reproductive System
- Lose your drive for intimacy
5) Your Skin
- Breakouts like acne, eczema, and rashes
6) Your Stomach
- Can cause peptic ulcer
- Food allergies
7) Your Pancreas
- Rising in your blood sugar levels
8) Your Lungs & Vessels
- Your breathing rate speeds up
- Adrenaline rushes more into your body
Which alerts all your senses, and again over time draining all your energy.
9) Your Immune System
- Less effective immune system
- High levels of inflammation
How Stress Affects Your Behavior
Now that your brain is in a fight or flight state, the CEO center in your brain has been rendered its power, your body is unbalanced and in pain, your headaches, body weight, skin breakouts are out of control, how do you think you’ll behave?
- Some people seek the wasted effect of alcohol
- Others suffer insomnia
- Some pick-up smoking
- Others find themselves in more accidents
- Some agonize at being restless despite their lack of energy
How Stress Affects Your Emotions
As your behavior changes, the results of your behavior become reinforces your thoughts, which create a worse & lasting set of emotions:
- Loss of confidence
- Sense of Defeat & Helplessness
- Sense of Unfairness & Bitterness
Stress management isn’t a new topic. So why does it remain a hot topic? Why is it that stress management techniques seem inefficient?
There is logic behind the stress management strategies out there.
The problem as I described is that because the CEO center in your brain gets disengaged while you are under stress, the brain tends to follow the program saved in your control center. This program or best practices center is your mind.
Under stress our judgment is impaired by the rally of our own emotions.
The reason why stress management techniques are still inefficient is because people try to fix stress when they are under stress, which is a very hard thing to do.
You need to practice stress management techniques and reprogram your mind so it can access such techniques when needed. Without engraving such techniques in the mind while you ARE NOT under stress, it is like I said very hard to call for it after you’ve already fallen a victim to stress.
The Three Golden Strategies that You can Start Practicing Today
The Three Golden Strategies that You can Start Practicing Today:
1) Power of Words
We believe what we tell ourselves. It is very important to pay attention to what you constantly repeat to yourself. Are you saying…
- I can’t take it anymore
- I am unable to deal with this
- I can’t cope
- This is just too much to handle
- It is too late
- I can’t stand it
- Why do I always end-up with that?
If so, then you are contributing a great deal to any external stressful factors. Change your vocabulary immediately.
- I can cope
- This too shall pass
- It is going to be OK
- I can do it
- I can manage
- Everything is going to work out well
- What if this will turn out to be the best thing ever?
Notice how you’ll start feeling. Practice faithfully and I guarantee that you will feel happier, more capable, more courageous and confident.
When we get stressed, our physiology changes, like I mentioned above. Our muscles become tense. We tend to talk faster or louder. We usually fail to listen to others. A lot of lines form on our tightened face. Some people walk faster (pick-up the pace). Here is what you need to do when you feel a little on the edge:
- Force a smile
- Take a deep breath (count to seven while you inhale, count to 4 while you keep the inhaled oxygen inside, then count to 7 while you exhale – repeat 7 times)
- Break your stressed posture by either laying down or throwing your shoulders down in an intentional slouched position
- Slow down when you walk and talk
Notice how you’ll start feeling once you do that. You will see that your stress level dropped immensely and you will find yourself gaining more control over it.
3) Mind Pictures
We think in pictures. It is a very good habit to always look at pictures that make you feel good before you go to sleep every night. When you feel a little stressed, think about those pictures and try to remember the details of them. Again a guaranteed strategy.
When you practice the above three strategies faithfully at any mild sign of stress, your mind will associate your actions to the fact that you so them when you feel stressed.
How do you know that you programmed your mind and mastered the techniques?
When you get into a very stressful situation and you find that your mind without any conscious effort from yours side is printing the empowering words in your head, displaying the joyful pictures and your breathing and mobility is orchestrated in a calming manner, then YAY!! You have mastered your stress.
I call those strategies “Gold Strategies” and I talk about them in my seminars. They work beautifully.
To a Happier, Peaceful You,
© 2015 Amel Abouelhassan