It doesn’t take long for you to recognize the signs of stress on the faces of people you know. . . furrowed brow, hollow eyes, perpetual scowl. It might be that you see some of those signs when you look in the mirror. Stress, so it seems, often is worn like a badge of honor as if only those who are stressed are successful. This might come as a surprise, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
Stress is defined as “a mentally or emotionally disruptive or upsetting condition occurring in response to adverse external influences and capable of affecting physical health, usually characterized by increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability, and depression. " There are a few key terms that warrant further investigation.
Stress upsets you mentally or emotionally. . . both functions of the mind. Stress gets in your head and pulls those strings that are wound too tightly. Often the tight strings are attached to things over which you have no control—getting a promotion, the weather, the outcome of a game, someone else’s decisions, and so forth. In order to manage stress, you have to determine which things you have real control over. Focus your energies on the things you can change and ignore those you can’t.
Adverse external influences are those things that you wanted to go one way, but instead went another. It is easy to predetermine how things are going to go. You anticipate your boss will do one thing, but she does something different. You plan a picnic for Saturday, but it rains all day. Those external influences are beyond your control, but you base your feelings on them anyway.
Managing stress requires you to employ thinking skills that are uncommon in today’s world. When you encounter a stressful situation, ask yourself these questions:
1. Can I control all or part of this situation? You might be getting all worked up over something you have no control or little control over. If you don’t have any control, then you need not think about the situation very much. If you have control, then look for ways you can be a positive influence on the situation.
2. Am I overstepping my boundaries? The stress you are experiencing might be the result of your attempt to control people’s thoughts and actions. You can’t really control what other people do; most of us can’t control what we do! When you allow yourself to be adversely affected by the actions of others, you set yourself up to be in a constant state of tension. . . scowl and all!
3. What is one positive thing I can do in this situation? Many times stress is followed by no plan of attack. If you are going to get worked up over something, then at least have in mind something you can do to make the situation better. If you’re worried about your job security, then get your resume ready to be distributed. Action often minimizes or eliminates stress, so have a plan!
4. How will this situation affect me in a week? a month? a year? ten years? Today’s big deals are tomorrow’s distant memories. Do you remember the agony you went through to select just the right outfit for your senior prom or other significant event? Now, as you look back, you probably realize you made a big deal out of something that really wasn’t a huge thing. You might not even remember what you decided to wear! Don’t make everyday decisions into crises! Simplify the complicated, don’t complicate the simple!
5. How is my stress affecting those around me? Take a look at how you are affecting others? Do your coworkers run when you come down the hall? Are your emotional eruptions over insignificant things predictable? Do you feel your heart race when you order a burger and you are asked if you want cheese? Do you discover people go together for fun AFTER the get-together is over? Apparently you are not the life of the party and people don’t want to import your stress. When your stress is negatively affecting others, it’s time for you to get a grip!
There are enough legitimately stressful situations; we probably don’t need to artificially induce more stress. Save your stress for things that really matter over which you have some control. . . then you’ll become more tolerable to the people around you! Think about it!
Dr. Terry Hadaway is an author, motivational speaker, university professor, and conference leader who is recognized as a leading authority on elearning, decision-making, and adult education. You can sign up for his newsletter by visiting http://www.rapidfirelearning.com There you can also order a copy of his book, 30 Seconds to Chaos: Mastering the Art of “What If" Thinking.