The Latest Blog Posts From Ryan David
3 Myths That Prevent Stress Mastery
Stress. Universally something that just about everyone dislikes, and wants less of...just saying the word can evoke feelings of tension, discomfort, even anxiety. However, most people have the amount of stress in their life that they do, simply because of how they view stress in the first place. I have found that one of the fundamental errors in dealing with stress in life is that most people attempt to find ways in which to address it after the fact. In other words, we go through life addressing stress with band aids, relief mechanisms, or coping strategies to try and lighten the load or alleviate it all together...
What is Stress Mastery?
Stress Mastery is a proactive approach to stress that helps you reduce the intensity and amount of stress you experience in your day to day life. It is the ability to develop a mindset that enables you to see stressors in a more productive way, and empowers you to use potential stressors as fuel or motivation to actually propel you forward. Stress Mastery involves re-defining stress and re-framing how you view potential stressors. This approach is far more effective than consistently seeking stress relief after you have already been overwhelmed by the feeling of stress. I want to briefly discuss a few myths, as well as an alternative definition of stress, and a different way of framing the way we look at this “thing” we call “stress”.
Myth#1 – You can live a stress free life
Impossible. Why? Because that would require that you never experience negative OR positive stress. Oh yeah, there’s such a thing as good stress. See Myth #2.
Myth #2 – All stress is bad
False. Bad stress is referred to as distress, but good stress is called eustress, and eustress is actually a necessary part of life. It serves the purpose of driving of us to take action when we feel any discomfort or when we need to get something accomplished, or complete a task. Eustress is responsible for much of our initiative.
Myth #3 – Stress is a thing
Nope. One of the mysteries surrounding stress and why it is difficult for so many to effectively address it has to do with the tendency people have to look outside of themselves to solve or fix or eliminate the source of the thing that is causing them stress. Stress is not a thing, stress is a response. More on that with the definition.
So what is stress?
When I ask my students this question, I typically get one of three types of answers. The first type of response describes some sort of physical experience: a headache, muscle tension, fatigue, etc. The second type of response is an emotional description: frustration, overwhelm, anxiety, etc. The third type of response is related to external factors: bills, deadlines, boyfriend or girlfriend, etc. But rarely does anyone actually describe or define what stress is. You see what most of my students (and most people) will describe when asked what stress is will give you either the source of their stress, how they feel when they are stressed, or what happens to them physically because of stress. But stress is not a source, stress is not an emotion, and stress is not a symptom. So what is it?
Definition: Stress is your body’s natural physiological response to pressure or a demand for you to adapt. In other words, stress is what you label the reaction or response that goes on in your body whenever your brain perceives that some sort of demand, change or adaptation is required of you. That’s it. Stress is a physiological response in your body based on what your brain perceives you can handle.
Perception: The Problem and the Solution
The challenge lies first in the fact that your body will respond to anything your brain thinks is a threat, whether imagined, made up, perceived or otherwise. Your body only experiences this stress response when your brain says to do so by triggering it. Therefore, the key to altering and influencing our stress response lies in perception. This includes how we choose to view things, think about them, and give meaning to them. Shifting our perspective can only be done once we become aware of how we already perceive or label things. This shift is also more likely and most effective when done prior to our brains being exposed to the stressor. You see we can consciously decide how we are going to view stimuli and situations before they happen in an effort to take some of the “sting” or stress out of them, if or when they ever occur. We can also actively choose what we are going to focus on with situations, or when faced with a potential stressor.
The second challenge is that we actually experience stress all day, every day. However, we only begin to call it stress when it gets to be “too overbearing, too much to handle”, or “impossible to overcome or deal with”. This often tends to happen when our focus is consumed by what we have no control over, rather than what we do. We usually aren’t even aware of stress until it appears to come from something, somewhere, or someone we feel we can do nothing about. It’s at that point that our conscious focus shifts from working on or addressing a stressor that we know or feel we can control, fix, handle, or accomplish…to what we perceive as something that we cannot.
The Key to Stress Mastery: Meaning, Focus and Control
You can change the meaning simply by changing the questions you ask, or the statements you make when faced with a potential stressor. Saying things like “I can’t take it anymore” “I can’t handle this” or “This isn’t fair” will surely eliminate any motivation you may have to change things. At the same time questions like, “Why does this always happen to me?” are not productive and call for a negative, self-fulfilling response. As opposed to questions like, “What can I do to fix this?” “How can I make this better?” or “What can I learn from this?”
One critical question to always consider is, “Can this physically harm me?” Our bodies are programmed with a survival mechanism to protect us from physical danger, and sometimes we activate that mechanism via the stress response by perceiving that some sort of demand or stimuli (a job requirement, unpaid bills, an assignment deadline, a middle finger, someone’s bad attitude or negative energy) is an actual danger to our wellbeing. When in reality, these things are just hurtful to our pride, ego, or self-esteem. Asking this question proactively will give you some perspective as to how you should actually view the issue at hand.
However, the most important question to ask is, “What can I control?” This question is critical because not only will it shift your focus away from what you do not control (which is most likely what is overwhelming you) but it will also occupy your mind with productive information, taking the place of potentially pessimistic, catastrophic, or negative thoughts. You can go from feeling helpless to powerful in an instant, simply from changing what you focus on.
What do I control?
No matter what the situation or stressor is, you only have 100% control of 3 things in your life at all times; what you think, what you say, and what you do.
Remember one of my favorite mantras: T.S.D. – think, say, do. Focusing on these 3 areas of your life will not only help you master stress on a regular basis, but will also lead to a more confident, proactive, and effective life as an individual overall.
Think – What are you focused on mentally? What is the meaning you are giving to the situation or stressor? What’s the nature of your thoughts, optimistic or pessimistic?
Say – What are you saying about the situation or stressor, to yourself internally or externally to others? What are you telling yourself about it? What kind of language are you using to describe the situation or stimuli, and is it empowering and inspiring? Or is it self-defeating and unproductive?
Do – What are you doing to change the situation? What actions are you taking that will potentially improve the outcome? What can you do about it that no one else can or will do for you?
Becoming aware of your thoughts, the language you are using, and what you can actually do about any given situation will absolutely dictate how you experience stress in your life. Consider the information above and examine your own relationship with stress. Reflect on your history in regards to past stress in your life and identify certain triggers that have historically been unique to you. Rethink the way you are going to approach or respond to those, and any other stressors in the future. Stress Mastery is not something that is attained in one day from reading an article or listening to a workshop. It is a skill that is refined over time through repetition. It is a way of living and experiencing the world that comes from actively making an effort to condition your mind consistently until it eventually becomes second nature. Feel free to revisit this article, and any of my other material for a refresher!
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