4 Ways to Manage Stress When There's No End in Sight
Updated: Jan 28, 2019
I was reading an article from Forbes, How Successful People Stay Calm. In it, the author notes that TalentSmart has conducted research on over a million people, finding that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.
Our brain is wired to deal with stress, recognize it and then respond accordingly by altering chemicals in our brain and body. It goes back to our primitive fight or flight mode. Most of the time though our current stress is not related to our possible demise. Yet the brain responds the same way to stress at work or at home the same way it would if we were being chased by a lion. So when we continue to manifest our stress, the brain continues to respond accordingly. Small, intermittent bursts of stress can be good for the brain, allowing it to generate new cells, however, any prolonged stress can also have prolonged negative effects, such as obesity, depression and decreases in cognitive performance.
The author continues to offer suggestions of what you might do when feeling such stress, such as appreciating what you have, staying positive, disconnecting with the source of the stress, limiting caffeine and getting enough sleep. I agree with all these things, especially when the stress isn’t overwhelming. Things like when traffic makes you late or when the kids tell you their project is due tomorrow and you have to get to Walmart for supplies. But I wonder if anyone read this, feeling as if they are caught in the middle of a huge whirlpool and there’s just no way of pulling out. Swim as you might, but you still can’t get to the edge and you’re literally afraid you might kill yourself trying. You’re that depleted. I’ve been there – more than once – I can still feel what it felt like at the time. I remember my coach asking me to imagine myself in a year looking back at the situation – would it look so threatening? No is always the answer, but how I would get there I had no clue, as I just can’t see beyond what was directly in front of me. Thinking through this reminded me of a quote:
“Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.” -Victor Hugo
I love this quote for it’s simplicity in describing that, even when there is instability, the bird feels no concern, fear or anxiety because it intuitively knows it has wings. It does not worry that the branch may break, or that it may be thrown by the wind and hurt by another swaying branch. The bird knows it can take off at any given moment. Such confidence!
Yet in the quote’s complexity, we realize that to be like the bird, you must have confidence in yourself – you must know you have wings and that they can take you to another place if need be. The branch sways beneath you, but you are willing to sway with it, knowing the wind will die down. There’s no doubt that life gives us unstable branches on which we must balance. and when the wind blows, we must learn to sway with the wind. I think the tips provided in the article are spot on when it comes to that swaying branch. So I encourage you to take up those practices and master the smaller stressors. Then when the hurricane comes, and there is seemingly no branch to hold on to, take one or two of those things to get you through.
I think of when I was in that swirling water, with no end it sight. I didn't even know if I ate or drank that day, let alone recall if it was caffeinated or healthy. Disconnecting from the source of the stress was impossible (unless I just ran away), and getting enough sleep was only going to happen once I was out.
How did I manage to get through it? It was a combination of a few things.
First was time, because as the time passed I was able to work through what I needed to.
Another important aspect of my getting through it was support from others. My husband knows when I need a break and encourages me to take it. He also forces me to go to yoga.
A third is doing small things that help maintain me. I try to hit yoga once or twice a week, and I make sure I get some fresh fruit. That daily apple goes a long way.
Finally, it's that little voice that continued to tell me “you got this.” I tried to hear my support system and smile when I could, remembering my family was still most important - I didn't want to drive them away! “I’m the strongest girl I know,” I would repeat to myself, again and again. And after about the hundredth time, things would start to feel (somewhat) under control. We can get out of stressful situations through our own might, and through our own strength. While not easy, we pull ourselves out of the vortex by taking a breath, and then taking a step back so we can take a deeper breath, just to feel a little energy come into our system.
We are all born with the capacity to fulfill our purpose. We have to cheer ourselves on to know that we can get through and live to see another day. I’ve had to do it many times throughout my business ownership years. And if I can do it, anyone can.
You are the strongest person you know.
You’ve got this – you really do!