Part 1 of this series (read it here) talks about the stress response in our body that we inherited from our ancestors. In Part 2 we look into methods that work, and why they do.
Here's the bottom line. Our physiology has not caught up with the XXIst century and it responds the same way to the morning traffic jam and to a crocodile trying to snatch your leg off.
Does it mean that we're supposed to throw in a towel?
Definitely not. The apparatus might not be perfectly suitable for the task, but we can make the most of what we have.
Be aware of your triggers.
Self awareness is everything. What that works as a starting point for many of my clients is a diary of stressful situations throughout the week. Once you cool down from the heat of the moment, look at the information you have gathered. Are there any prevention measures you can put in place?
You may discover that some simple solutions can go a long way.
If being late is your stressor, could you plan to arrive at your appointments 15 minutes early? One of my clients, Kate, noticed that the quality of her day depends on the morning. If her and her sons have breakfast, get ready without drama, manage to leave the house without searching for missing items at the last minute and she makes her train with time to spare - the day goes much better. Once she realised that, she made a few simple changes to their evening routine to help make this a regular experience. Now everybody packs their bags and gets their clothes ready the night before.
Is it groundbreaking? No! Does it make Kate's life stress free? Of course not, she owns a consultancy business and her days can be intense. But it still makes a big difference.
Our tolerance to stress is like a daily budget. If you use a lot up early in the morning you have less left for your day.
Too many stressful incidents in a day and the debilitating effect the cocktail of stress hormones has on your body starts taking its toll.
The good news is that you can increase your resilience to stress so that your budget is higher to start with. But that's a topic for another day. I'm a big believer in making small changes now that make a surprisingly significant difference, just like Kate did.
Cover the basics - take care of your body
This one is so obvious, I almost see you rolling your eyes. But I'll say it anyway. A looked after, well fed and hydrated body can cope much better. Dehydration alone affects concentration, mood, memory, and anxiety levels.
Also, it's worth developing healthy coping mechanism. Rather than choosing alcohol, cigarettes, overeating or other unhealthy vices to numb your feelings down, can you destress in a way that's not putting your body under more strain? I have relatively good habits in this department, but I'm still working on not turning to carbs when stressed. I have to say that knitting has been a surprisingly successful stress buster...
Lunchtime kickboxing anyone?
When our body triggers a stress response, there has to be a physical release afterwards. Those extra stores of glucose that get delivered to your muscles so you can run away from danger or survive in a fight need to be used up in physical movement. Otherwise the body doesn't get the release it needs to rebalance itself and cortisol levels build up in the blood.
When I had a demanding job in a cutting edge consultancy, I used to go to a boxing gym class a couple lunchtimes per week. The positive effect it had on my wellbeing was unbelievable and, hand on heart, it made me a better person. Knowing what I know about physiology now, it was not only a great physical release of stress in my demanding job, but also the next best thing to fending off a gorilla.
If you were to take only one thing from this article, take this: exercise is brilliant against stress because it uses up the glycogen that has been sent to your limbs to help you fight or run.
It resets your body and gives you instant perspective. Whatever has been troubling you before you put those trainers on just won't have the same power over you when you're back from your workout.
Change your perspective
When dealing with a stressful situation, I ask myself the following question: will I still be bothered by this 5 years from now? This helps me avoid sweating the small stuff.
There are many CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) techniques we can use to reframe our thoughts when tempted to catastrophise. Especially where our self-talk may be sabotaging our stress levels.
There are methods you can use to look at things from a more helpful angle: prioritising and letting go, using probability to get out of black-and-white thinking patterns, reminding yourself what you are in control of.
I'm fully aware that you've likely heard of these methods before. But are you implementing them in your day to day life? Reducing stress can be one of the most important ingredients for you to be happy at work, and simple changes can make a big difference.
Whether you'd like to be happier in your current job, or befriend stress in preparation for a major career transition, improving stress resilience can be part of your bespoke coaching programme with me. My work with clients often includes improving self awareness of triggers, developing good habits and coping mechanisms as well as altering stressful thought patterns. If you'd like me to support you in achieving your goals, please book a free discovery session with me here.