Let's talk about stress

Stress is all around you. It is everywhere, it will always be present, and there is nothing that you can do about it. But let’s be clear: how you respond to stress is absolutely in your control.

I feel that stress, itself, has a negative connotation. There is good stress, bad stress, and everything else in between.

I’ll give you a brief history of my experience with stress and how I am able to power through it and use it to my advantage.

My history with stress

As a kid, everything stressed me out. I remember panicking in a store if I couldn’t see my Mom. I remember not being able to fall asleep because I was stressing out about a simple spelling test; then I couldn’t sleep because I was nervous about not being able to sleep.

Every night, my poor Mom would rub my back until I would fall asleep. Only for me to wake up within minutes and stress out all over again. I felt nervousness and anxiety all of the time. It sucked.

Then I had an epiphany and started using stress as a tool.

Break stress down - understand it

It wasn’t the stress that was making me stay awake and night and feel anxiety. Rather, it was my reaction to the stress that was making me feel that way. I was making a choice (whether consciously or subconsciously) to allow stress to make me feel that way.

Into the more recent World, I hear people say that, “work stresses me out.” That statement implies that stress is an output. But it is not true, stress is only an input. How YOU respond to anything (stress, happiness, love) is the output. You have control.

If you let yourself respond negatively to stress then you are giving that stressor power over yourself. Is it really more powerful than you?

Stress is not a bad thing. In fact, when I feel stress, the first that I do is hug it; embrace it, listen to it. It is telling you something.

A quick exercise

Let’s go through the example from above: “work stresses me out.” I am a Solutions Architect so my work stressors may be different than yours. Be sure to keep that in mind. But, the process is the same.

  1. Step One: hug it! Mindset shift: It is okay that work is stressing me out.
  2. Step Two: listen to it! What about work is stressing me out? Is it co-workers, managers, account executive, customers, meetings, etc.?
    • For me, it will often be a customer meeting that I feel some stress about. But a meeting is just an object and shouldn’t stress you out. What is it about the meeting that stresses me out? Maybe it is that:
      • I have to give a presentation. What about the presentation is stressing me out?
      • I don’t feel confident about my ability to give the presentation.
    • You can see that it isn’t work that is stressing me out, it is my lack of confidence in delivering a presentation that is stressing me out. Now it is problem solving time!
  3. Step Three: question it! The first question is binary: can I control it? If you cannot control it, why should you worry about it? You have a finite amount of decisions and energy in a given day; so don’t waste time/energy on things that you cannot control. If you can control it, great! Now let’s make a plan to get over it.
    • In the example, it is lack of confidence in delivering a presentation that is stressing me out. Is this something that I can control? It sure is! So the question I can ask myself is, “How can I get more confidence in the presentation?” Some answers include:
      • Practice, practice, practice
      • Present to a teammate or colleague
      • Any other ideas?
    • Creating a plan will help you tackle it and work through the problem logically. Put it into a list and focus only on that list. Cut out the rest of the noise.
  4. Step Four: repeat this entire process for each of the stressors in your life. It may seem like a lot at first, but over time it will be second nature and you’ll be able to run through the process in a few seconds.

In closing

I hope that this helps at least one person out. Stress is a very common thing and it is a great tool if you know how to use it to your advantage. Do not be afraid of it or avoid it; hug it! :-)