Today we wrap up our series on stress with a summary of the four stress assessments and the nine stress-proofing practices we have reviewed over the past few months. Many readers tell me they love my summaries, because they help to crystallize the learning we have experienced by exploring a topic together. I know I learn a lot from writing them, and I also learn a lot from the replies you send me from week to week. Thanks for that. Want to learn how to stress proof your life in one quick read? Today’s Provision is the one for you.
I started this Provision series on stress at the beginning of May, 2009. At the time, the US economy was still faltering badly, with great anxiety as to what the future held. The sense of imminent doom, which had been lingering since September of 2008, had begun to pass. But things were still precarious and no one knew when things would start to look up. From equity markets to real estate to manufacturing to employment figures, everything was in flux. No wonder I started a series on stress!
Today, more than three months later, there is talk of improvement and hope is in the air. Whether or not this can be credited to governmental action, including the economic stimuli, one can hear a collective sigh of relief from the talking heads, pens, and tweets of financial pundits around the globe. Although employment figures are always the last to catch up in the wake of a recession, not to mention the governmental deficits, there’s reason to think that the environment is changing for the better. And the environment always wins.
Time will tell, of course, as to whether or not that proves to be true. Improvement is small consolation for those who are currently unemployed, going through foreclosure, or facing bankruptcy. What may be good news for one person is no news or even bad news for another. That’s why stress proofing is ultimately an individual responsibility. No one will do it for us and everyone will face stressful challenges over the course of a lifetime.
So I have spent the last nine weeks writing about nine ways for you to stress proof your life. Before that I gave you four ways to assess just how much stress you may be under. To conclude our series, I want to give you a quick summary.
The stress assessments focused on life events, physical symptoms, annoyances, and worries. The recession has been stressful for people on all ends of the economic spectrum because economic dislocation accounts for more than 16% of the total items on the life events assessment. It’s a big deal. Physical symptoms are even bigger deals, making them, perhaps, the best indicator of how much stress we are under. Simply put, stress kills.
Annoyances and worries represent the emotional side of the equation. The more stressed out we are, the more impatient we get with other people and the more worried we get about ourselves. We worry about those physical symptoms, both real and imagined, plus we worry about our ability to get our needs met. Given how important it is to meet needs, ranging from the most basic to the most transcendent, such worries can drain the energy out of life and magnify the stress we are facing. Simply put, stress is self-reinforcing.
That’s why it’s important for us to be proactive when it comes to stress. One thing is certain: if we sit back and do nothing, stress will get worse. Stress proofing is about doing what we can do to make things better. Our actions may not get rid of stress altogether, but that doesn’t mean we are hopeless and helpless. Every little bit counts when it comes to stress, and the following nine practices are some of the best ones I know.
- Stress Proof Your Mindset.
Stress activates the more primitive parts of our brains, including the Reptilian Complex and the Limbic System. That’s why our mindsets get so reactive, emotional, and judgmental. To calm things down, we have to engage the Cerebral Cortex. What is really happening? What are we feeling? What do we need? What do we want? The more engaged we become with such questions the more we activate heart energy. The point is not to analyze the problem (that can make things worse); the point is to appreciate the situation in ways that make things better. By shifting our focus to a positive view, and by avoiding catastrophic conclusions, new possibilities emerge.
- Stress Proof Your Self Talk.
What do we say when we talk to ourselves? If our messages are filled with judgmental, critical, demanding, and self-deprecating remarks, then we’re piling stress upon stress. So how can we shift what we say when we talk to ourselves? Try this: instead of saying, “I’m so stupid,” reframe that by saying, “I’m telling myself that I’m so stupid.” Instead of saying, “Stop being so nervous,” reframe that by saying, “I’m telling myself that I should stop being so nervous.” By reframing negative self-talk in these ways, we break the pattern and become more able to chart a different course. By receiving our inner messages as gifts, instead of as pests, we come into a new and more choice-full relationship with our feelings.
- Stress Proof Your Routines.
Tell me your daily routines and I will tell you your future. To stress-proof our lives we not only need to do inner work, such as stress proofing our mindsets and self talk, we also need to do outer work • starting with our daily routines. Successful people have successful routines, patterns of behavior that we don’t have to think about, that we enjoy, and that support our values and goals in life. The more we get ourselves into positive rhythms, not boring ruts but invigorating routines, the better we will handle the stressful challenges of life and work.
- Stress Proof Your Wellness.
Wellness is a function of our routines. It’s not an accident; it’s rather the cumulative appreciation of positive, lifelong habits. Brush your teeth every day, for example, or even better multiple times a day, and you increase your chances of good health. That’s the way wellness routines work. By paying attention to our nutrition, fitness, and goodness routines, people stave off the ravages of disease and aging. My own recommendations are based on evolutionary science: the best ways to eat, drink, exercise, and live are the ways that human beings have adapted to the longest. All this is summarized in the LifeTrek
- . They include an abundance of whole foods, found in nature, and a minimum of processed foods, developed through industry and agriculture.
- Stress Proof Your Money.
Wealth is also a function of our routines. Although some people are born into wealth, most people come into it • if they come into it at all • the old fashioned way: they earn it. They earn it by controlling the expense side of the equation and optimizing the income side. Sounds great, right? What separates those who make it work from those who don’t is the cumulative appreciation of positive, lifelong habits. Little things add up over time; unfortunately, most people don’t develop such routines early enough in life to take advantage of time. And the further behind we get, the harder it is to catch up. That’s when stress really takes over. So in addition to developing new routines, people can stress proof their money by letting go of what they can’t control, expressing gratitude for what they can control, and becoming satisfied with what they have along the way. There’s nothing better than a satisfied mind.
- Stress Proof Your Relationships.
Although he may have questioned his neighbor’s wisdom, Robert Frost is perhaps most famous for that twice-repeated line in the poem
- , “Good fences make good neighbors.” That line expresses what Caroline Westerhoff describes as the “irresolvable tension between boundary and hospitality.” It also expresses the challenge of stress proofing our relationships. Err on one side or the other, too much boundary or too much hospitality, and we end up in trouble. Strike the right balance, and we end up with vital relationships in life and work. How can we tell if the balance is right? Notice whether or not and to what degree we are playing the blame game. When the balance is off, we tend to blame others or ourselves for our negative feelings. When the balance is on, we celebrate the beauty of the need and appreciate the possibility of the moment.
- Stress Proof Your Love.
Our significant others represent a special relationship with a special ability to either drive us crazy or make us happy. There’s that fine line again, only now the stakes are higher. Domestic violence can result when these relationships are stressed to the limit, and the statistics are alarming. So what’s a couple to do? Court each other daily. Put service above self. Share each other’s interests. Never be jealous. Pitch in. Keep laughing. Trust life to work out. Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Know what’s important to you. Communicate your boundaries. Through such active engagement in making your love work, stress goes down and joy goes up in the most important relationships of our lives.
- Stress Proof Your Environments.
In the contest between intentions and environments, environments always win. They are that powerful. All the good intentions and all the will power in the world are not strong enough to overcome poorly designed environments. They are that important. That’s why coaches work so diligently with clients to design better environments. We want systems, surroundings, networks, procedures, equipment, materials, and locations • to mention only seven of the most common culprits • to fully support client intentions and goals. When that happens, and when that happens with set-it-and-forget-it automation, stress goes out of the equation altogether. Things are no longer hard and effortful. Things are rather easy and effortless, because our environments are working for us rather than against us.
- Stress Proof Your Spirit.
There’s one more thing that can really add stress to life and work: being disconnected from our passion and out of integrity with our values. Those things touch the deep places of our soul, the inner being, and we have to tend to them if we hope to eliminate the interference that stress represents. One way to do that is to focus on the contribution we want to make to planet earth. Another way to do that is to focus on the needs we want to meet at this moment in time. Universal needs are just core values by another name. The more mindful and focused we become on that which is life-affirming, life-giving, and life-building, the happier we will be and the less stress we will feel.
I hope that summary is helpful in wrapping up this series of Provisions. There’s no way to happily endure high levels of stress. In fact, high levels of stress take such a toll that life itself eventually grinds to a halt under their weight. And then what good will we be? So don’t let that happen to you. Pay attention to the things that make for life, set yourself free, and dance.
Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your levels of stress right now? What things are more stressful? What things are less stressful? Which stress-proofing practices would you like to experiment with and bring into being? How would that happen? Who might be willing to join you on the journey?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
I absolutely loved your last Provision, Stress Proof Your Spirit. Have you been “reading my mail”? I love when I read such inspired words at the exact time when I need them. I remember defining my core values when I worked with Erika and it was life changing! Thank you for taking me even deeper into an understanding of my values and how they are one with my spirit.
I just want to thank you for your Provisions newsletter that I receive….I always enjoy reading it…and am reminded about living according to my values and my spirit. I look forward to your wise words every Sunday!!
Great Provision! Thanks.
I am so enjoying the stress series.
Could you tell me if there are lectins in berries, celery, nuts, flaxseeds, eggs, and cheese made from raw milk? Thank you! (Ed. Note: I think you’re pretty safe with those foods, although dairy products (of all kinds) are not native to the human diet (they were introduced about 7,000 years ago with the domestication of animals). The primary sources of dietary lectins are legumes and cereal grains.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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