Stress is pervasive. Everybody's got some of it. And stress is idiosyncratic. What stresses out one person doesn't bother another person.
For example, at an employee health seminar, the audience members were asked to write down what stressed them out. In a somewhat whimsical manner, their responses included such things as:
- Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of checks
- You never really learn to swear until you learn to drive
- If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments
- Success always occurs in private and failure in public
Of course, everyone got a good laugh out of that, but stress is not a laughing matter.
Stress can have serious effects
Stress endangers your health, your relationships, your success, and even your peace of mind.
Two cardiologists, Dr. Rosenman and Dr. Friedman, have made that abundantly clear in their research. They couldn't help but notice that most of the patients they saw were what they called ‘Type A’ people who had one, two, or three heart attacks, often times fatally.
They said 'Type A' people had two major characteristics:
- They suffered from ‘hurry sickness’.
It was important for them to be someplace else than where they were at the moment and they couldn't wait to get there. They tended to be multi-taskers who would try to read the morning paper, watch the news, and chat with their families all at the same time - and then be texting while driving to work. 'Type As' are extremely impatient, sit on the edge of their chairs, finish sentences for you and have great difficulty in just plain relaxing.
- 'Type A' people suffer from free-floating hostility or anxiety.
You may not be angry at any one person or situation but angry at just about everything in life.
The anger comes out in a myriad of ways. Drumming your pencil on the desk during a staff meeting; physically hitting a table or speaking with a clenched fist through clenched teeth. Or perhaps you're the kind of person who gets into line at one of the many fast-food establishments. You carefully examine the check-out lines to see which one is the shortest and get into that line. Ten seconds go by and you figure it's no big deal. Twenty seconds go by and you begin to wonder if you picked the right line. Thirty seconds go by and you're angry at the restaurant for not putting on more help. Finally forty seconds into the wait you begin to think, or even say out loud, that you're “never coming to this restaurant again”.
You may be a full-fledged 'Type A' person or have only a few of the characteristics. But this is important: Contrary to popular opinion, Rosenman and Friedman found that 'Type As' seldom rose to the top in a corporate hierarchy, not to mention they had difficulties with all their other personal and professional relationships.
The most successful people were able to manage their stress effectively - for their own benefit and that of everyone around them.
So how do you do that?
Three ways to combat stress
- Systematically eliminate the unnecessary
That's right. Systematically eliminate as many unnecessary events, people, or activities from your life. Every one of those things carries a certain stress load with them. You may need to say 'no' to some things, such as bringing work home with you, volunteering for five different charitable activities, or overprotecting your kids. For example, if you find you can't even go to a movie without getting up three or four times, walking out into the lobby, and calling the babysitter to check on the kids, it may be time to look at your behaviour.
You may need to eliminate your perfectionism because that always carries a stress load with it. Have you ever heard of the expression: "Anything worth doing is worth doing right!" Many of us are taught to be a perfectionist from an early age.
If you switch your thinking to: "Anything worth doing is worth doing half right", you will release an amazing amount of tension from everyday situations. If you wait until conditions are perfect before you act, you may never start and you will almost always lose out on something good
- Consciously re-engineer the repetitive irritations
You probably have some things in your life or your work that continue to bug you every day, every week, or at least on a fairly consistent basis. If this is the case, then it's time to figure out some other time or some other way to handle this irritation.
For some people, it bothers them to waste any time whatsoever. They want to make every moment productive. For example, if you are someone who never wants to arrive at the airport too early and then sit around and wait, the result will be leaving the office at the latest possible moment, rushing to the airport, and then hope you won’t be stuck in traffic and miss your flight.
Instead, try leaving the office at least two or three hours before my flight so you don't have to worry about traffic, the car breaking down, or a road being closed. This way, you will always have enough time to use Plan B or C to get to the airport and catch your flight. And instead of being frustrated at the airport while having to wait at the gate for the plane to take off, relish your newfound time as a time to catch up on e-mails or read another chapter in a book. It’s a simple solution to a repetitive irritation that can pay off a thousand times.
Here's another example: say you shop for groceries around 5:00 p.m. on a weeknight and find there are long check-out lines, cranky clerks coming to the end of their shifts, or the food items you wanted are all sold out. This would be a major stressor that would happen on a regular basis, but it is easily fixable: ask the customer service department at the grocery store about their quietest times, compare that to your schedule to find the perfect time to shop. You can cut your time and stress in half.
What kinds of things are going on in your life or your work on a regular basis that stress you out? Think about how you can re-engineer that task.
- Put things in perspective
At the very moment you feel your stress level rising and your blood pressure elevating, STOP yourself for a second and put things in perspective. Ask yourself one question: "What difference will this stressor make five years from now?" Before a situation can be stressful, you must first perceive it as threatening your happiness or success. If you don't see it as threatening, you won't see it as any big deal and you won't get stressed out.
For example, if a co-worker refuses to greet you in the morning and just walks by you with a grunt or diverted eyes, will that make any difference five years from now? Probably not. If your neighbour puts an ugly plastic pink flamingo in his front yard, will that make any difference five years from now? Probably not.
On the other hand, if the stressor does indeed threaten your happiness or success, you should respond with appropriate assertiveness. For example, voting on a political issue that has significance for your life and future.
Stress is not a disease you catch like the common cold. Stress is a choice you make... albeit sometimes unwittingly and unconsciously. But stress is something you can manage. And you can start with these tips.