Stress is that thing that wakes you up at night with spiralling thoughts and a racing heart beat. It’s that thing that makes setbacks or curveballs feel personal. And it’s that thing you feel in your body, that tension in your face, jaw, muscles and shoulders.
Feeling stressed is horrible, and over the last few years it’s something that’s bubbled up more for me. It never used to bother me, taking things in my stride as I tend to, so it’s been a pretty new experience. And I don’t much like it.
So as someone who’d rather not be set upon by stress, I’ve figured out some smart ways to switch it around and use it.
1. Use it to find a better way
I’ve come to see stress as a sign that there’s a different way for me to engage. As soon as I realise that the way I’ve been doing things isn’t the best way for me to be doing things, the objective becomes finding a new way of engaging that serves me better.
In other words, if the way I’ve been engaging is leading to stress, what’s another way of engaging that doesn’t? What’s a way of engaging that frees me up to do great work, rather than being bound to stress?
2. Use it to let go
Stress is often a response to the need to be in control of everything. Gotta do this, gotta be on top of that, and holy shit that needs looking at right now before it blows up in all our faces. But you and I both know that attempting to control everything will make you crazy like a box of frogs. There’s only so much we can do, only so much that we can be on top of, and only so much that we have any control over anyway.
Whether through acceptance, delegation or other means, letting go of the need to be in control of everything is pretty liberating. And if I don’t need to be in control of everything, I have more space in my head for the things I can impact.
3. Use it to reach out
My tendency is to take it all on myself, piling task after task, responsibility after responsibility on my shoulders. And then I wonder why I’m a bit stressed out. So it won’t come as any surprise that reaching out to other people is a magnificent way of dealing with stress.
Ask for help. Delegate. Invite support. The expectation that you have to do it all yourself is fake like a Play-Doh diamond. Accepting that you don’t have to do it all alone is huge.
4. Use it to nourish yourself
Stress happens when you’re running on empty and there are still a gazillion things to do, and having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility my tendency is to keep on going until I’m empty and then go a little further still. So there’s a genuine need to fill up your tank before you find yourself running on fumes.
I’m talking about self-care and nourishment, those things that bring you back to you and keep you feeling nourished in your head, heart and body. Deprioritise that stuff at your peril.
5. Use it to set boundaries
Stress can creep up on you inch by inch, until BAM!, he’s right there in your face with his pointy elbows yelling at you to do it all, do it all now. So one way of using stress is as a sign that your boundaries have been eroded, and need resetting.
Where do you stop? Where do you draw the line? How do you ensure you have quality of life? These are the boundaries that you own, and it’s on you to exercise them.
You get to choose…
You always get to respond to stress, and the way you respond to it is always your choice. These are the big hitters I’ve found by digging into my own experience and making my own changes.
What works for you?