Posts Tagged ‘Stress Management’

Journaling for Better Emotional Health

Article submitted by guest author Kelly Simmerman

When I was a teenager, I kept a diary hidden under my mattress. It was a place to confess my struggles and fears without judgment or punishment. It felt good to get all those thoughts and feelings out of my head and down on paper. The world seemed clearer.

Photo Credit Jeff James

I stopped using a diary when I got older. But the concept and its benefits still apply. Now, it’s called journaling. It’s simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. And if you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, keeping a journal can be a great idea. It can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your emotional health.

One of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy way to express yourself. This makes a journal a breakthrough tool in managing issues such as:

–Anxiety

–Stress

–Depression

–Moodiness

–Problems, fears, and concerns

–Inner critique

Tracking feelings day-to-day is essential. That way, we can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them. Also, identifying and calling out negative thoughts and behaviors offers clarity.

Photo Credit Ben White

Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress, providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and better outcomes.

Researchers found that writing three to five times for 15 minutes a session was effective to help participants deal with emotional and even traumatic events. “Those who do so generally have significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who write about neutral topics,” said Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, the authors of the article published by the Cambridge University Press.

I’m sure, as coaches and therapists, you know the basics of how to journal, so I won’t bore you with too many details about the how. I will say this… Journaling is most effective when you do it every day. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule is that once you begin writing, you continue until the time is up.

Photo Credit Hanna Olinger

Also, notice your body as you write. Be aware of the experience of writing. Notice words that made your shoulders hunch as you wrote them, observe where you gripped the pen tighter, or your breathing eased. This is putting you in relationship with your writing and allowing you to witness your brain’s processes.

Putting a pen to paper is a cathartic and private way for you to deal with the stress of your daily life, whatever that stress might be. When you keep a journal, you’re able to approach and release the anxiety you have. Using a journal allows you to process your emotions in a place that is safe and secure like sharing secrets with a best friend who never judges.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”       

— Natalie Goldberg

Long Term Outcomes

• Improved mood/affect
• Helps prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
• Feeling of greater psychological well-being
• Reduced depressive symptoms
• Reduced absenteeism from work
• Quicker re-employment after job loss
• Improved working memory
• Track progress in coaching or therapy work

Why Does This Happen

Writing heals, empowers and transforms. Whether in a journal, a travel log, writing lyrics or poetry, to composing a love letter, writing allows us to clear our mind. And this uncluttering offers mind space so that we can get real with ourselves.

Rather than pushing parts of us away, we are instead creating an environment that allows us to simply loosen our grip. We don’t have to fix anything. All we’re doing is bringing tender, nonjudgmental attention to our thoughts and feelings and making room for whatever is living there. Journaling allows for this. So instead of trying to let things go, I invite the concept of– let things be.

“Journal writing gives us insights into who we are, who we were, and who we can become.” 

— Sandra Marinella

Something else is happening when we take pen to paper. Writing stimulates the Reticular Activating System, which filters through the many topics that your brain processes and determines which points to bring to the forefront. There is a connection between our hands, our arms, our eyes, our brains, and our emotions. We are all integrated beings. At times, it doesn’t feel like it, but all this is happening within one body. Journaling brings all those parts of us together to impact our emotional well-being and mental health.

Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338

5 Ways to Put Stress in its Place

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Stress is your body’s reaction to anything which requires attention or action. It often arises when that thing which requires attention or action is not something we want to do, or feel like we’re able to do. Fear of failure, and fear of being seen as a failure can spur our feelings of stress, and prevent us from taking positive steps toward resolving the issues.

Not all stress is bad

Stress in and of itself is not negative. Stress is a normal, human response and actually has many positive benefits. For example, research shows that stress can lead to improved cognitive function and build resilience, to name a few. [https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stress-you-didnt-know-about] It can increase short-term immunities, and motivate you to get it in gear and succeed. [https://www.health.com/condition/stress/5-weird-ways-stress-can-actually-be-good-for-you]

It’s the prolonged, day-in-day-out stress which tears us down. Research show that this unmanaged, prolonged stress can cause ill effects such as headaches, digestive issues, insomnia, elevated blood pressure, and chest pain, diabetes, skin conditions, depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. And if you already suffer from a disease, unmanaged stress can make your symptoms worsen. [https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body]

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

– Sydney J. Harris

It may surprise you to learn what the real culprit of this unmanaged stress is. It’s not the negative circumstance — or the frustrating people involved — or the long list of to-dos which are surmounting. It’s how you respond to this prolonged stress which get you in trouble.

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

— Hans Selye

Notice what your body is saying

A precursor to putting stress in its place is to learn to tune into your physical responses to stressful situations. How does your body alert you to stress? Some people experience a rapid heartbeat, while others get a sick pit in their stomach. Some report a dry mouth, clammy hands, or unusual sweating. Some get a headache, can’t eat, or eat too much. Some feel excessively tired, discouraged, and disheartened. Some get the cry feeling. Others feel something nigh to terror. What about you?

Next time you sense stress, pause to notice these physical “symptoms”. Not only do you want to note what are you feeling in your body, but where are you feeling it? Is it in your neck? Or maybe your shoulders? Tuning into these physical responses will put you on alert for when they come again…and they will visit again. These signals act as an early warning system enabling us to choose to act instead of react to the triggers.

Another facet to notice is how you treat others when you are stressed. You may go quiet, and become non-communicative, or you may resort to finger-pointing and yelling. You may throw yourself into work while avoiding important people in your life. You may act out in behaviors which damage relationships. You may hide your stress and pretend nothing is wrong, stuffing it inside (only for it to reappear later), or you may attack anyone and anything which comes within ten feet of you. If you can relate to any of these anti-social responses to stress, or are able to add your own, it may be time to try something new.

“The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking.”

— Wayne Dyer

Learning a new way of responding to stress — putting stress in its place — can help us work calmly under pressure, push through tough times, and be able to use stressful events to improve our circumstances.

Stress Management Traits

Those with strong stress management skills accept that stress is inevitable and a part of everyday life. They are aware of how they feel when stress arises, and have adopted calming techniques in response. They can maintain their composure and make a choice to control aggressive, hostile, and irresponsible behaviors. They tap in to their vitality and strength to push back when needed, or let go. They take appropriate actions to alleviate the stress. They do not procrastinate. They choose not to sweat the small stuff and are able to keep things in perspective.

Those who struggle view stress as external and don’t realize that what they are feeling is their reaction to stress. They can feel unable to concentrate, become forgetful, and experience brain fog. They worry and tend to act impulsively, engaging in unpredictable, sometimes explosive or abusive behavior. Does this describe you?

If so, it may be time to make some shifts.

“Training your brain to manage stress won’t just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it.”

— Amy Morin

5 Ways to Put Stress In Its Place

1-Just do it. Choose one thing you can do to tackle that stressful situation — and take one step. You most likely won’t fix it in one fell swoop, and at this stage, you’re not even trying to. Just elicit movement in a new direction. You know how good it feels to check something off of your to-do list? So…check something off of that to-do list! Breaking overwhelming tasks into bite-sized chunks make it easier to achieve a motivating sense of accomplishment, even if it’s something small.

“Doing something that is productive is a great way to alleviate emotional stress. Get your mind doing something that is productive.”

– Ziggy Marley

2-Flood yourself with positivity. Research shows that the more we exercise our signature strength(s), the more positive emotions we will feel. Do you know what provides you with positive emotions, such as joy, excitement, peace, hope, and contentment? Take the VIA Character Strengths assessment to discover your signature strengths. The report will list out your strengths. Take a look at your top three and brainstorms ways you can incorporate more of these things into your daily life – then do them, as often as possible. Not only will you feel better, this positivity will rewire your brain to be more creative and innovative as you search for ways to resolve stressful situations.

“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”

Lee Iacocca

3-Try to relax. I know, it’s the last thing you’d think of doing when you’re stressed, especially when there’s already too much on your plate. But finding a way to relax your body and your mind can refuel you with the energy needed to tackle what’s next. Take a walk, do something you enjoy, talk to a supportive friend. If nothing else, breathe. Breathe in deeply, and slowly, then exhale. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

“It’s a good idea always to do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life.”

– Paulo Coelho

4-Reflect on your past achievements–and failures! Yes, what you are facing is tough. It may even seem insurmountable. But you’ve done hard things before. Think back on times of success, times you worked hard and made it through. What skills did you lean into to get through the stress? You’ve done it before so you can do it again. Also remind yourself of times you failed, and made it out the other side. If you are still here today it is a testimony that the failure didn’t break you. You are resilient and wired to handle changes which lead to stress. You got this.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

– Michael Jordan

5-Don’t quit. Prolonged stress can be exhausting, but giving up will not solve anything. The only way to get there is to keep on keepin’ on. If you’re struggling to hang on, reach out to a trusted loved one or confidant. Find a counselor, coach, or therapist to talk to, and if you find you’re entertaining thoughts of hurting yourself or others, seek professional help immediately. In order to persevere, you need to keep yourself refreshed. What provides refreshment for you? Maybe it’s getting more sleep, or reading a book, or hanging out with friends. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite music, or exercising, or taking a mini-vacation to somewhere warm. Do these things as often as necessary to keep your perspective and energy fresh.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

– Winston Churchill

Handling stress is tough, but it can be done. Which of these will you do more of today?

“You can’t choose what life throws at you, but you can choose how you respond.”

― Maya Angelou

Becoming a Change Agent

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

“If you do not create change, change will create you.” — Unknown

A change agent is a person who initiates, promotes, and supports a new way of doing something, whether it’s the use of a new process, the adoption of a new structure or bringing about the transformation of an old way to a new one. In business, some are given this title to bring about the necessary change within an organization, whether it be in management processes or structure or a shift in the business model. But whether or not it’s in your job title, in some form or another, we all are called to be agents of change.

If you are change resistant, it may surprise you to learn that change happens whether you like it or not. Take aging, for instance, that process which happens to us all which is associated with biological, behavioral, physiological, and social processing changes. In her article entitled, The Science of How Your Body Ages, Nicole Saporita explains how change is continually shaping our bodies. Her words? “Aging is happening on a cellular level at every moment”. [https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/wellness/a27630177/aging-process-signs/].

And as your body reshapes itself, day by day, so does your brain. Dr. David Eagleman, neuroscientist, believes that our brains arrive in the world unfinished, and it takes a lifetime of experiences to further wire it. In his words, our brains are “rewriting themselves all the time.” You can read more about this at https://www.gettingsmart.com/2015/09/we-are-wired-to-learn-change-and-engage-the-brain-with-dr-david-eagleman/.

And I don’t think there is anyone who can disagree that the world around us is changing at rapid, if not alarming, speeds.

Being able to catalyze change when needed is a competency of emotional intelligence. People who have this ability demonstrate the mental agility needed to consider new ways of doing things. They recognize the need for change, picking up on early signals and signs which communicate a shift is needed. They are willing to take ownership of change initiatives, and when barriers arise, are quick to figure out ways to move them out of the way. They are open to challenging the status quo and aren’t afraid of resistance or opposition. Not only do these change agents champion change, they are able to inspire others to join in its pursuit.

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”Benjamin Franklin

Don’t feel bad if you’re not strong in this area — many are not. How can you tell? You most likely are happy with the status quo and find yourself saying often, “But this is the way we’ve always done it!” or, “Things used to be better in the old days…”. You may have a bit of a closed mind when it comes to innovative ideas and those new employees with all the fresh ideas? They may really get on your nerves. While it’s normal to resist change, this fixed mindset can result in a failure to be adequately prepared for the future and keep up with changing times.

How do you know when it’s time to make a change? One of the primary signals of a necessary transition is the feeling of being stuck. Often in life, we hit places where we feel like we aren’t making a difference, or can’t, or feel as if life is just a series of dull routines which have no significant outcomes. You may feel bored. Frustrated. Disheartened. When you are experiencing that ho-hum feeling, it can be an indication that change may be just what the doctor ordered. And though there are some things in life you just can’t change, as we mentioned above, there are many choices we do have to bring about change.

“Resistance to change should be a thing of the past if we could develop growth mindsets and create organizations with growth cultures.” ― Paul Gibbons

Consider these simple changes which may create some movement for you in a new direction:

1-Change your scenery — It’s time to take a break from looking at your phone and computer. Most of us can agree we spend way too much time looking at screens. Get up, take a break, and get a fresh perspective. Work from a different room in your house, set up an outside desk if possible, or simply face a new wall in your home office. Take a walk down a path you’ve never explored. Drive along a different route than usual. Try a new restaurant. Read a new book. Take a weekend trip to somewhere new. Altering your surroundings can be an easy first step toward embracing change.

2-Change your media intake. Do you have the news on 24/7? Or always listen to the same podcaster with the same opinions? Try a new source of news, or listen to a podcast with a unique perspective. Even bolder, try turning off media for a while, or make a decision to stop scrolling on social media for a period of time. Listen to an audio book instead, chat with a colleague, or crazier yet — try enjoying some silence. Sometimes our best insights come when we create space to really hear.

3-Change your social interactions. Making new friends may be tough right now, but new connections can boost your spirits and spur a growth mindset from the sharing of ideas. Join a local social group, or a special interest group (kayaking, birding, book club, social justice, etc.) and join their next virtual meeting. Get to know a colleague better who shares a similar vision. Make a point to deepen a connection with a family member or neighbor, or simply ‘show yourself friendly’ with the next human you come into contact with.

4-Change your order of operations. We tend to develop routines and stick to them, and this can be a great asset toward accomplishment of goals. But don’t be afraid to mix things up once in a while, to stay open to new perspectives. For example, instead of always sitting at your office desk for work, try working from a coffeeshop or a shady spot in a nearby park. Instead of always eating at 5 pm, try a late-night dinner. If you always go on a run for exercise, consider trying a new sport or activity. Changing up the routines can fire new neurons in your brain which can boost creativity and innovation.

Learning to embrace change (and even initiate it) can add value to your life, bringing about advantages such as personal growth, flexibility, strength, and resilience…all qualities which help us get to the other side of tough times.

“So I beg you to think of change more positively. When we say “This is a game changer,” that connotes something good and positive.” — Allen Karl

In his article, 20 Reasons Change Is Good For You, Allen Karl outlines a number of benefits of change. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Change helps avoid stagnation
  • Change forces us out of comfort zones
  • Change introduces adventure
  • Change conserves energy (it takes more energy to fight change than to embrace it)
  • Change brings about learning
  • Change enables you to see possibilities
  • Change provides fresh opportunities
  • Change forces you to move in a new direction
  • Change can help you overcome fears
  • Change is a harbinger of possibilities

[https://www.allankarl.com/everything-must-change%E2%80%A620-reasons-why-change-is-good/?]

If becoming change agent is a competency you’d like to develop, you may find John Kotter’s book, Leading Change (Harvard Business School Press, 1996) , a good place to start. Kotter came up with eight steps to bring about successful change. You may want to start with number one and work your way up, or, notice which step you’re stuck on and brainstorm ways to gain traction in just that area.

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Collaborate with others and build teams
  3. Establish the vision
  4. Communicate clearly to win your team’s buy in
  5. Empower team members to take action
  6. Figure out ways to celebrate short-term wins
  7. Build upon gains to push forward
  8. Anchor the change so it sticks

What is one area of your life which needs a change? As you ponder each step above, jot down a few notes around how each could move you closer toward your goal. As with most things in life, change can only happen when you begin. So start small, with one, forward-moving step.

What will you do today to initiate forward movement in an area of your life?

“Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.”Ann Morrow Lindbergh

7 Steps to Managing Stress with Personal Power

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

When is the last time you had to face something tough which caused stress? Last year — last month — yesterday — today?

Stress and being human go hand-in-hand, especially these days. And tough times most likely aren’t going away any time soon, so if you’re hoping for a stress-free life, best of luck with that. In an article published by the Medical West Hospital, the author says, “Stress is a normal part of life…and an unavoidable reality of life. But stress isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a natural, physical response that can trigger our fight-or-flight response. Stress can increase our awareness in difficult or dangerous situations, allowing us to act quickly in the moment. Without it, humans wouldn’t have survived this long!” [https://www.medicalwesthospital.org/preventing-stress.php]

The goal isn’t necessarily to get rid of all stress, but to have a toolkit full of resources to tackle it when it does arise. One of the primary tools which helps combat stress is the emotional intelligence competency of personal power.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
– Lou Holtz

Personal power is the ability to know you are able to meet life’s challenges with a sense of self-confidence. It’s that “inner knowing” that you have the ability to live the life you choose, even if it means having hard conversations and speaking your truth along the way. It’s an ability to tune into your own emotions and behave in a way that fits within your personal value system — even if it’s unpopular. And — it’s the ability to do all of the above in a way that builds relationships, not tearing them down.

In other words, exercising personal power is not about being confrontational, pushy, or ‘bulldozing’ over others. More often than not, this competency is exhibited in a quiet, sincere manner which others may not even notice at a glance. True personal power does not need an audience, but it receives a following.

Those who struggle with this competency of emotional intelligence lack confidence in their own judgement and shy away from tough conversations. They are avoiders and have difficult speaking their truth if they perceive it will not be well received. They avoid challenges and take the easy route when available. They are not risk-takers and often are unable to set boundaries with others which are appropriate…such as expecting to be treated with respect and being able to communicate that. When they do decide to speak up, their assertiveness can come out as offensive.

But what does personal power have to do with stress management?

First of all, personal power provides you with the confidence and ability to make changes when needed. You do not feel like a victim, but rather, in charge of your choices. If you’re in a stressful situation, your belief in self empowers you to boldly face the issues and make adjustments as needed. For example, you know when to push back hard when someone is trying to compromise your values (something which causes stress) and know when to let go (not sweating the small stuff). You believe your actions have an influence on the outcome and aren’t afraid to step in and deal with the situation.

“Do not wait for the green light. You are the green light.”
― Dr. Jacinta Mpalyenkana, PhD, MBA

Secondly, your personal power gives you the ability to maintain composure when stress arises and choose productive behaviors which diminish negative emotions connected to stress, rather than feed them with nervous tension, anxiety, irritability, etc. You recognize that stress is a part of everyday life and can provide an opportunity to grow, so, you do not fear it. You know how to calm yourself when stress arises and are not afraid to seek support from others when needed.

Finally, personal power enables you to combat stress because you are acutely aware of your needs and know how to respond appropriately. Instead of waiting for circumstances or others to ‘fix’ things for you, you recognize your emotions in the moment and, based upon what you learn from your emotions, choose healthy behaviors which help instead of hurt yourself, others, and the specific situation. You like yourself enough to take care of yourself, including practicing good mental health as well as eating well and exercising, all choices which help with diminishing stress.

Like all competencies of emotional intelligence, personal power can be developed. Here are some ways to rediscover your personal power:

1. Know yourself. What are your top 5 values? List these and journal a bit about why they are important to you. Rank them in order. If you are struggling with identifying your values, ask yourself what is most important to you. Think about things like generosity, or responsibility, or honesty, or ambition.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
– William James

2. Identify the things you excel at. Think back on past successes and focus on the strengths you used to get there. Try to remember how you felt when you accomplished this feat and how it affected others. Congratulate yourself for these achievements and remind yourself that you are capable of success.

3. Work on developing an “I can” thought process. That negative voice in your head no longer gets to be voiced or heard. Instead, when it tries to speak, combat it by shaking your head and saying to yourself, No, that’s not true.” Replace it with “I can, I will, I have, I am going to” and say aloud what you plan to do.

“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”
– Wayne Dyer

4. Stop apologizing for your thoughts and beliefs. When you are sharing your values with someone, the conversation should never start with, “I’m sorry, but…”! Learn to state your values, wants, needs, directly and succinctly, without apology. Your thoughts and beliefs reflect who you are. Be proud of that.

5. List out the areas in which you’d like to grow. In which areas of life would you like to make improvements? Take note of why you currently are not confident in these competencies…emphasis on currently. If you have experienced past failures, that’s OK. Everyone does. Forgive yourself and move on. If you’re having trouble noting the source of your struggles, enlisting the help of a close friend, counselor, or coach may provide insights into the things which are presenting themselves as hurdles.

6. Find a mentor. Who do you know who is good at the things you are not? See if you can arrange for a conversation with them and begin to learn from their successes and failures. Find books about people who have achieved successes, or about people whom you admire, and study the behaviors of those who excel.

7. Practice assertiveness in everything you do. Start small, with the ‘easier’ things, such as speaking up when a colleague asks what you want for lunch, or when your significant other asks what you’d like to do after work. Try to avoid saying, “I don’t care”, or, “Whatever everyone else wants”, and speak up for your needs and desires in the little things, often, giving yourself practice in personal power for when bigger issues arise.

As with all new skills, the more you exercise, the stronger you’ll get. If you’ve spent a lifetime of putting yourself down, or not standing up for yourself, know it may take some time to turn the tables and incorporate this competency of emotional intelligence into your everyday choices. Try taking at least one step each day as you move in this new direction, and be sure to accept your mistakes and celebrate your wins along the way. This way, you can be better prepared to handle the stress that lies ahead in 2021.

“When we get comfortable with our own strength, discomfort changes shape. We remember our power.”
― Jen Knox, The Glass City

Applying Signature Strengths for Emotional Wellbeing

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

What do you do when you feel down?

My go-tos are blueberry cake doughnuts and an adult beverage or two. While these bring short-term bliss, they work against my long-term goal of weight loss, so end up contributing to the blues, not helping.

Discouragement is a normal locale we visit often throughout life, sometimes for visible reasons and sometimes for reasons we can’t put our finger on. Most of us try to hide these negative emotions rather than tuning into them as vital intel, like a dear friend who is authentic enough to tell us a hard truth.

One thing these negative emotions could be trying to tell us is that we need more of our top character strengths in our life. Researchers have found that knowing and doing more of our highest character strengths are keys to life satisfaction.

Do you know what your “signature” strengths are?

There is a free assessment called the VIA Character Strengths survey, created by the VIA Institute on Character, [viacharacter.org/character-strengths-via] and by completing it, you can determine your strengths, so, when you’re feeling blue, you know what to do more of.

My top signature strength is “an appreciation of beauty and excellence”, which explains my incessant need to go looking for views so stunning, so spectacular, so satisfying, that they takes my breath away. I love being enveloped in nature’s beauty, its shimmering turquoise waters, its varieties of swaying palm trees, its stunning mountain vistas, and its orange creamsicle sunsets, and trying to capture the moment in photos and words to remember it by.

So if you see me posting beautiful pics of amazing places I’ve discovered as I’m out adventuring, please don’t judge it as bragging, but rather, recognize I’m just doing some emotional health self-care. I’ve come to accept that I need a boost of positive emotions daily, and since it really does lift my spirits, spend my free time in pursuit of these wonders.

Research also suggests that sharing our character strengths with others is another way to boost those positive emotions. It’s one of the reasons many of us like posting on social media, especially during times such as these when getting together with friends is a bit harder to do.

If you complete the assessment, I’d love to hear what your top strength is, and how you plan to incorporate more of that in your life.

On a positive note

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Times such as these can feel overwhelming, far too trying and tiresome to attempt to maintain a positive outlook. With ever-changing restrictions, guidelines, and perspectives which continue to constrict their grip on life as we once knew it, many report feeling utterly exhausted. Mix in fear, uncertainty, and grief, and it’s a recipe for negativity. Add in a little financial struggle and a heaping lack of in-real-time social interaction, you may find yourself completely spent at the end of each day. Who can muster up the effort for a positive mindset with all of this going on? Choosing optimism can feel like just one more thing on your to-do list. It’s much easier to allow dejection and depression to curl their dark tendrils around what’s left of the light inside of you and choke out any positivity you have left.

But realistic optimism during tough circumstances is the very salve needed to soothe our wearied souls.

What does it mean to be realistically optimistic? To better understand, let’s take a quick exploration into the field of positive psychology. Jeana Magyar-Moe, Ph.D., defines positive psychology as the scientific study of optimal human functioning. Optimal human functioning. Let those words sink in. Would you describe your life right now as optimal human functioning? Most likely not! Martin Seligman, Ph.D., defines it as the scientific and applied approach to uncovering people’s strengths and promoting their positive functioning. Do you feel your strengths these days are being revealed in a way which promote positive functioning? If you’re anything like me, quarantines and stay-at-home orders have instead revealed how weak my character is when it comes to things like eating well and exercising. Oh, why is that fridge door so easy to open, and why is Netflix is so much easier to choose than a yoga workout? Similarily, Chris Peterson, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, says positive psychology is the scientific study of what goes right in life, happiness and joy, what makes life worth living, and the good life. Nice. For him. All it takes is one glance on social media to see most everyone around us telling us what is NOT going right in their lives.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing a lot of people who are living out positive psychology these days.

Whichever definition you most connect to, there’s no need to argue which is best. We have plenty of other newsworthy items to argue about. I think we can all agree that an increase of positive emotions is something we all could use more of. But how to find that in a world swarmed with negativity?

Realistic optimism is not about pretending nothing bad is going on. It’s not hiding our heads in the sand, or looking the other way when negative events occur. Life is tough right now, no need to pretend that it’s not. But would you believe that a positive spirit is not so much about what’s going on around us?

Researchers have found that our circumstances only make up 10% of our happiness levels! I find that shocking. What do you mean, my ability to experience positive emotions is not based upon what is or is not happening to me? Oddly, studies show that 85% of the stuff we worry about ends up having a positive or neutral outcome? Think back on the last thing you were really worried about — did it actually come to pass to the degree you expected?

And while 50% of our happiness results from our genetics, the remaining 40% is up to us, through our choices and actions!

You’ve probably heard of emotional intelligence — that ability to perceive the emotions you an others are feeling, in the moment, and manage your behaviors and relationships appropriately. The competencies which make up emotional intelligence are really about behaviors — behaviors based upon the emotions we feel. Two of these competencies, realistic optimism and resilience, are closely connected to positive psychology. Realistic optimism is expecting success instead of failure, seeing opportunities instead of threats, expecting the future will bring positive change. Resilience is perseverance and diligence in the face of setbacks. I sure like the sound of each of those. But easier said than done.

Why have a positive outlook? Through her work around the science of positivity, researcher and author Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues discovered that positive emotions have superpowers. They can broaden our awareness, attention and cognitive abilities. They can build our creativity and resiliency. They allows us to see a wider range of possibilities, unlike negativity, which tamps down our innovative ideas. Positivity helps us be more socially connected and build stronger relationships, and has actually been proven to undo the psysiological damage that persistent negative emotions can cause. [https://positivepsychology.com/broaden-build-theory/].

And all of that can happen despite the negative circumstances which surround us!

I know, it’s hard. Honestly, I think it’s easier to allow negativity to take rein, allowing our emotions to run amok, without any awareness or management. Think back on a time when someone recently made you very mad. Remember the physical symptoms you felt? Maybe your heart was racing, your mouth became dry, and you felt a sick pit in your stomach. Maybe your face flushed, your jaw clenched, and you found your hands became fists. And the thoughts which result from that hard-hit of negative emotions! It’s probably not a good idea to mention them here.

These emotions which lead to thoughts are what lead to our actions. Actions which, often, later, when we lie down in bed and think back on our day, make us cringe. It’s much easier to let negativity rule than take hold and choose positivity. Consider this, for example. When you read a post on social media that makes your blood boil — which is easier, in the moment: to type something smart aleck or cutting, or to choose to tell them something you appreciate about them?! Negativity is a much easier choice. However, if we continue to let negative emotions take the lead, we’ll quickly and easily end up in Debby Downer’s neighborhood. But who wants to live there?

How do you know if you could grow in realistic optimism? See if any of these ring true for you. People who struggle with an positive outlook tend to see failure as permanent and that difficulties, when they arise, will last a long time. They demonstrate inflexible thinking, and, as a result, can feel powerless and helpless. They expect the worst and often dwell in the past, engaging in negative self-talk. They operate from a fixed mindset and often believe that every misfortune is their own fault and attribute their success to luck rather than their own capabilities. They blame their circumstances for their misfortune and love to tell you about everything that has gone wrong over the days, months, and years. Does this sound like you?

On the other hand, those who possess a positive spirit see unfortunate events as temporary, and use each struggle to develop better coping skills. Their self-talk speaks to them of success because they believe they will succeed. These individuals operate from a growth mindset, believing negative events are temporary and happen to everyone. They are unfazed by defeat and bounce back after disappointments. They’re flexible, adaptable, and look for ways to allow failures to teach them resiliency. Do you know anyone like this?

Carol Dweck speaks of these two mindsets in her book, Mindset (2015). She describes a fixed mindset as one which assumes our character and intelligence are static, and our success is based upon of inherent intelligence, one that’s set at a fixed standard. In other words, there’s no room to improve or grow. Those with this mindset avoid failure at all cost to maintain their sense of worth. In contrast, Dweck notes that a growth mindset “thrives on challenges and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence, but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.” Do you see the difference?

She also goes on to say, “Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.” [Mindset, 2015]

In other words, most of the goals we think will make us happy, often don’t. In contrast, it’s our mindset which determines our level of happiness.

The beautiful thing about a positive spirit is that it can be developed, no matter how negative you’re feeling today, and no matter the ugly circumstances swirling around you. A model to follow is PERMA, developed by psychologist, educator, and author Martin Seligman. Each letter of PERMA represents things we need in our lives to experience more positive emotions. Seligman coined the phrase, “Learned Optimism”, because a positive outlook for many of us does not come naturally. We have to choose PERMA, to learn it, and not wait for it to just happen by some act of fate.

Which one of these could you use more of?

Positive Emotion. In order to have a positive outlook, we need to feel positive emotions. Experiencing emotions like joy, hope, contentment, excitement, and giddiness, on a regular basis, can increase our levels of positivity immensely. Take note of the emotions you feel most strongly each day. If the negatives outweigh the positives, take some time to do the things which create positive emotions for you.

Engagement. Do you absorb yourself in your activities fully or are you a multi-tasker? If the latter, your ability to engage may be limited. Research shows that it really is difficult to multi-task — though you may be doing two things at once, one of them is getting more focus and attention which means the other is put on the back burner. Learning to focus on one thing at a time and relish the experience with all of your senses — engaging — is vital to building positivity.

Relationships. Experiencing deep, meaningful relationships, and taking the time to connect with those we care about, is probably the foremost way to build positivity. Make a list of those you love being around, and note why. Figure out ways to reach out and connect with them on a regular basis. Need more friends? Seek out ways to make new connections and build relationships, whether it’s joining a social group or expanding your friendship circles to include new faces.

Meaning. What is your life purpose, and how does that show up in your day-to-day activities? Can you connect that purpose to the work you do? Does it show up in your personal relationships? Knowing why you do the things you do and aligning them with your values can add meaning to everything you do. Try writing down your values, the things which are most important to you, and see what shifts you need to make to better align your life with those values. Seek the help of a coach or counselor if needed.

Accomplishment. If you’re a to do list-maker, you know how good it feels to check off a box when you complete a task. Accomplishments, both great and small, make us feel good. And they increase our motivation to continue to be successful. Looking back on past accomplishments can spur us toward greater goals. Try it. What did you accomplish today? Write them down, and circle the items you are most proud of. Share an accomplishment with a friend. Celebrate your wins. Try this for a week, or a month, and watch your positivity grow.

From a 20,000 feet view, here are a few ways to cultivate PERMA:

Challenge your negative thoughts about past events and why they happened.
-View negative experiences as neither personal nor permanent (“this too shall pass”)
-Consider the worst-case scenario and come up with actionable strategies to avoid it
-Remember bad things happen to everyone (the grass isn’t always greener)

And on a more down-to-earth level, here are some practices to incorporate PERMA into your day, week, month, and year, proven to increase your positive emotions:

Connect with friends/family/new people

Change your setting

Get outside and spend time in nature

–Find something that makes you laugh — and laugh!

Exercise (aerobic and cardio work best)

Do something kind for someone else– giving back, community engagement, volunteering, etc.

Activate your curiosity and learn something new

–Begin a gratitude jar/journal/letter

Reflect on a past achievements and celebrate them

Set a new goal and jot down how you’ll get there

Count your blessings and small kindnesses which happen every day

Savor moments, big and small

–Find flow (get lost doing something you love)

By choosing just one of these to start doing each day, with repeated practice, you will increase your positive emotions. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and find out. It can’t hurt to try. Your weary soul deserves a little positivity. And what an amazing example you could set for others who think they have to sink into the downward spiral of negativity. Who knows, your positive emotions may inspire them to do the same.

You and this world need your positivity.

The road to resilience

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

These are tough times, worrisome times, exhausting times. For many, taking the path of least resistance can seem like a good choice as we navigate the road ahead. However, a tough go of it may be the very thing needed to help us build a competency of emotional intelligence which is vital to our ability to thrive during these stressful times.

This competency is resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover and bounce back after tough circumstances. It’s represented by perseverance and a “don’t quit” attitude in the face of setbacks. It’s the ability to cope with difficult circumstances, move past hurdles, and be resourceful when resources are limited. Those who are resilient are able to rebound quickly from disappointments. They tend to be flexible, adaptable, and open to change. They see setbacks as temporary and failures as isolated, short-term events.

People who exercise resilience may experience the same negative, stressful situations as the next person. It’s not a lack of negative circumstances which cause them to fare well, it’s the ability to adapt and keep going.

Laura Malloy, the Successful Aging program director at the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, says resilience is associated with longevity, lower rates of depression, and greater satisfaction with life. “There’s a sense of control, and it helps people feel more positive in general,” she says. [https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/ramp-up-your-resilience]

On the other hand, those who are not resilient tend to see failures as permanent. They demonstrate inflexible thinking, dwell in the past, and become frustrated when change is required. These individuals tend to get ‘stuck’ and can’t move forward when creative, innovate ideas are needed in the midst of tough circumstances. They tend to engage in negative self-talk when things go poorly. We often describe this as a ‘victim mentality’.

Most worthwhile things in life take work. Think back on the last thing you accomplished which you are most proud of. Was it an easy road to get there, or did it take hard work? Most likely, your success required a great deal of perseverance, trouble-shooting, and resourcefulness. There were probably times when you wanted to quit — but you didn’t. 

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone how has overcome adversity.” — Lou Holtz

Instead, you made a choice to stick with it, despite the challenges. One of the most beautiful things about competencies of emotional intelligence, such as resilience, is they can be developed and broadened with the choice to do the work. So if you struggle with resilience, rather than waving the white flag and throwing in the towel, consider choosing to take one small step in a new direction.

Here are a few places to start down the road to resilience:

  • Practice healthy living. It sounds simple, but if you’re not getting sufficient sleep, or eating nutritious meals, or getting physical exercises, it can be tough to develop a resilient mindset.
  • Note your negative self-talk. Engaging in negative self-talk is a good way to tear down your resilience. Take note of when these conversations take place and look for patterns. Is there someone in particular who triggers this negative talk? Why might that be? See if you can’t isolate the negative talk and ask yourself, “Is this belief based upon facts? What evidence do I have to back it up? Is this belief serving me and others well? What is a different way I could view this situation?” 
  • Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations. State your goals with “I can…” or “I am…” or “I will..” sentences which give credence to your ability to be successful. Write them down. Say them out loud. Share them with a friend.
  • Remind yourself that setbacks are temporary and need not be viewed as long term and permanent. Picture each challenge as a hurdle which can be jumped over, instead of a brick wall which will bring you to a halt. Envision yourself leaping over that hurdle and moving forward.
  • Look to others who are resilient. Identify people in your life who exercise resilience and learn from them. Ask them how they move forward when they face obstacles. Seek out their advice and ask them to share stories of times when they persevered.
  • Don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with a team of  people who support your efforts to become more resilient. Shy away from those who validate you as being a victim and instead, seek out others who know the value of hard work and aren’t afraid to tackle hard things. These could be colleagues, managers, family members, friends, a coach, etc.

“We can do hard things”. — Anonymous

Building a resilient mindset takes work and time. Allow yourself mistakes along the journey, being quick to forgive yourself and others, and keep that chin up, always looking ahead. When you stumble, remind yourself that everyone gets tripped up from time to time. When you fall, get back up and keep moving. The road to resilience is tough, but the reward is worth the effort.

Navigating the storm

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I think we all can admit things are tough right now. Life as we know it has hit a strong headwind and it feels as if we’ve been thrown into deep, uncharted seas. We have been launched out of our safe harbors and suddenly must figure out new ways of working, relating with others, and existing. Gone are the days of smooth sailing and we’re being called to exercise adaptability, resilience, optimism, and patience — to name a few — just to stay afloat.

It’s hard, because what is being required of us is to change, and change can be difficult, especially when resources are limited. Suddenly, reaching the goals we had previously set seems near impossible.  “How am I supposed to [fill in the blank with your impossible goal(s) ] when I can’t leave my home?” It’s a fair question, one which many are asking. The easy thing to do during times such as this is to cast blame. But doing so will only take the wind out of your sails, which, in rough seas, may be the very thing which causes you to sink.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill

As we’ve seen in the past few weeks, there are those who continue to accomplish great things, despite the difficult circumstances, while others have given up on accomplishing much of anything. Why the great gulf in response to tough times? Of course there are many contributors, but one factor to consider is achievement drive.

Achievement drive is a competency of emotional intelligence. Those with strong achievement drive have high standards, and strive to succeed despite setbacks and failures. Stephen Covey said it well: “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” In other words, no matter the state of affairs, there is still a choice whether to push forward or fall back.

People with a strong achievement drive tend to be results-oriented, with a high motivation to meet their objectives. They have a deep understanding of the values which are important to them and don’t make compromises. They set goals for themselves which require stretching instead of taking the easy route. They’re not afraid to take risks and are always looking for ways to do things better. And most of all — they’re not OK with OK. They are constantly looking for ways to improve.

Who do you know like this?

Not everyone can name achievement drive as one of their assets. Those who struggle with this competency tend to, either overtly or covertly, avoid firm, fixed standards of performance and instead, fit the results to their circumstances. These are the people who meet expectations, if needed, but don’t push onward and upward. They tend to put forth minimum effort, whatever is needed to get by. They accept the status quo, and pride themselves in not being one to “rock the boat”.  And personal standards are quick to be thrown overboard when whitecaps begin to form.

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford

I’ll be the first to say that achieving goals when the seas are rough is not easy. But if you’re always waiting for the timing to be right, you’ll probably be waiting a long, long time. If you look back upon the life you’ve lived, you can’t help but notice that change is a part of life. And often, just when you think things are going to be easy for a while, a twist of circumstances can quickly turn your world upside down. Have you ever been saving money, making better choices as to your spending, and just when you’ve almost reached your financial goal, an unexpected burden arises and your resources are again tapped out? Yes, it’s hard to reach our goals when things aren’t easy. But we can do hard things.

Will you let this storm bring your plans to naught, or will you figure out a way to paddle, if needed, through the waves and find a safe harbor on the other side?

The good news is that negative behaviors, such as a lack of achievement drive, can be shifted to follow a new course, despite the circumstances. It takes a mindset of growth, and a willingness to take risks, and even fail, and a positive outlook, along with some blister-forming hard work. But it’s worth the effort. Studies show that a negative mindset can squelch our  innovative ideas, and if we let it run rampant, motivate us to lower our standards, take an easier, lesser route or even worse, quit.

On the contrary, a positive outlook can help us see possibilities and fresh solutions needed to tackle the storms ahead. As Les Brown says, “In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. That means we have 1,440 daily opportunities to make a positive impact.”

Here are some ways to improve your achievement drive during rough seas:

  • Chart your course.  Do you set goals which are too easy to reach? If so, it may be what is preventing you from reaching your highest of heights. Raise the bar a bit. Nelson Mandela once said “There is no passion to be found playing small–in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Choose a destination you actually want to get to! To coin the phrase from the 80’s, “Reach for the Stars!” Setting goals which feel a bit beyond your grasp will require you to extend your boundaries and pick up new skill sets. Check your goals by asking the simple question, “Is this excellent?” or, “Is this the best I could do?” If it’s a no, chart a new course.
  • Get in touch with your love of the sea. Tuning in to the emotional pull of what you want to achieve and why can create energy needed to accomplish great things. Someone once said, “Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights the way.” Ask yourself these questions and take some time to journal about them: Why do you want to reach this goal? What about the journey draws you to it? What will you gain by achieving this goal? What benefits are there to going the extra mile? What will you lose by not taking action or going for more?
  • SMART Sailing.  SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. Does your goal need some tuning to be a SMART goal? Again, writing about each of these can be effective in gaining awareness. Or, find a trusted friend or colleague with whom you can share your ideas to get some feedback. Sometimes an outside perspective can provide great insights. As you uncover areas of growth, list out ways you can make adjustments where needed.

“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” – Harvey Mackay

  • Name your adversaries.  What is holding you back from driving toward achievement? Is it a past story that is being retold, one which does not serve you well? Is it a fear of rejection, or may be failure… or a fear of succeeding? If needed, work with a counselor or emotional intelligence coach to help you recognize and name the forces which are opposing you, and learn healthy ways to move past them.
  • Inch forward, one knot at a time. Break down your goals into small, doable action items. Commit to doing one each day, no matter what distractions or interference you may incur. Keep on keeping on. Though your progress may seem slow, each step in the new direction counts. In time, these small gains add up to big gains, then you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. But only if you keep moving. Your determined, continued effort will pay off.
  • Keep a ship’s log.  Discouragement comes when we don’t feel like we’re making progress. It’s important to acknowledge that you are making headway against the strong winds. Keep a daily log of your achievements, small and great, and everything in between, and reflect on them at the end of the day, week, and month. Share them with others. Celebrate your successes and allow yourself to be encouraged by the progress you make along the way.
  • Enlist a crew. Your friends and colleagues may have skills which you don’t have. This is good. Think of your friends, colleagues, and family members. Who do you know who has high standards, who have set lofty goals and achieved them? Call them up and ask to meet in order to learn from them. Tap into their expertise and ask them to share their stories, tips, and suggestions.  Inviting someone else along for the ride also helps the struggle feel more enjoyable, and will give you much-needed accountability.
  • No need to walk the plank.  We live in a culture where perfectionism is thrust upon us as a norm. Which would be useful, if we weren’t human. Even the best of us miss sometimes, but it doesn’t have to result in quitting. You have to know that it is OK to make mistakes, especially if you use them to learn and grow. Some of the greatest individuals we know have stories of failure. Accept that getting off course and hitting reefs is a part of the learning process. And when you do mess up, apologize where needed, reset your course, and move on.  And a word to the wise: Skip the shame. Living with shame is like dropping an anchor and dragging it along the bottom of the sea as you try to move forward.  It will do nothing but slow down your progress and may even bring you to a halt. Instead, allow your mistakes to motivate you to try a different approach.

Of course, it is easier to succeed when the sun is shining and the waters are smooth. But unfortunately — or fortunately — that’s not the way life works. No matter your circumstances, you have the choice to move forward. It may be a different route than you originally planned, and you may face new obstacles and be forced to discover new ways of doing things. But if you don’t move forward, you’ll be tossed to and fro until you’re seasick!  Don’t give up.  I know, it’s hard.  But I encourage you to push on, despite the rough seas, and be someone who makes it to the other side. Keep driving yourself to achieve.  Once you’re there, in that safe, sunny harbor, not only will you realize your own dreams, but you’ll be able to turn around and throw a life buoy to those still struggling, and help them move forward as well.

It’s tough right now. It really is. But if you can use these difficult days to pursue high standards of excellence, through this storm, you’ll build resilience and grit, competencies which will serve you when the next squall arises. Which will arise, you know. This isn’t the end of it. There will always another wave coming sooner or later. So use today’s struggles to get ready for it.

Sail on. You’ll be glad you did.

“Do what you can with all you have, wherever you are.” — Theodore Roosevelt

How to Better Manage Your Stress

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

Do you know anyone like this?

“Stress level: extreme. It’s like she was a jar with the lid screwed on too tight, and inside the jar were pickles, angry pickles, and they were fermenting, and about to explode.”  —Fiona Wood

It’s a great visual. My brothers and I used to come home from school on hot, August afternoons when Mother was canning bread and butter pickles. They were angry pickles. The acrid odor of vinegar engulfed the entire kitchen and we’d sprint, eyes watering and throats tightening to keep from gagging, out the back door in pursuit of a breath of fresh air. The thought of being around a jar of fermented pickles ready to explode today is enough to send me running.

Imagine your stress-induced emotions as acetous pickle juice just waiting to explode from a pressure-filled jar. Maybe it’s how you’re feeling right now…as if you’re on the brink of detonating into an eruption of anger, or find yourself jetting quickly toward an emotional melt-down. Prolonged stress can do that to the best of us. And while stress most likely won’t be going away any time soon, we can learn to make choices which will help us better manage it.

The Negative Impacts of Stress

Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but if we don’t learn to get a handle on it, it can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. Based upon results of a stress study done by the American Psychological Association, 66% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 63% experience psychological symptoms. Because our natural stress response is not designed to be continually engaged, we must find ways to shut it off.  Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that prolonged stress disrupts the balance in the brain, throwing off the normal cadence of brain cell communication. (https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-stress-affects-mental-health/) A study done by Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that negative impact of stress could be likened to smoking more than five cigarettes a day! (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2250106/Stress-bad-heart-smoking-cigarettes-day.html).

“Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.” — Kris Carr

Your Stress Triggers

Developing awareness around your stress triggers is a good place to start.  Grab a journal, ask yourself these three questions, and note your responses:

  • Which situations occur on a regular basis which cause you to feel stressed?
  • Which people in your life could you name as sources of your stress?
  • Which circumstances turn routine situations into stressful situations? (For example, do you feel more stressed when you haven’t eaten, or when you’ve overeaten? How does sleep (and a lack of) affect your stress levels? When you let your worries run rampant, do you find you’re feeling more stressed?, etc.).

If you can become aware of your triggers, there’s a good chance that you can avoid escalations, shifting behaviors before they turn toxic.

What are you feeling?

Do you recognize what stress feels like in your body? Those who have strong stress management skills are able to detect rising stress before it reaches a dangerous level. Physically, you may experience headaches, fatigue, or shoulder pain. Other common symptoms are stomach aches, excessive sweating, back pain, and a racing heart. Behavior-wise, you may find you are taking a habit to an extreme, like overeating or excessive smoking. You may find you’re short-tempered, grinding your teeth, or driving too fast. Emotionally, you may find you are bothered by unimportant issues, getting the cry-feeling more often, or feeling depressed and dejected. Cognitively, you may have trouble thinking clearly, or struggle to translate your thoughts into clear words. You may find it hard to concentrate or find yourself more forgetful than normal.

Learning to recognize how stress rears its ugly head in your body is something you want to tune into.  Next time a stressful situation arises, take a moment to notice what you’re feeling and write it down.

“Everyone has the ability to increase resilience to stress. It requires hard work and dedication, but over time, you can equip yourself to handle whatever life throws your way without adverse effects to your health. Training your brain to manage stress won’t just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it.” –Amy Morin

Stress Reduction Techniques

Though you may not be able to make the stressful situation or person go away, you can learn how to control your own responses. Here are some techniques you can try to reduce the feeling of stress. Which of these could you undertake, in the moments when stress arises?

  • Practice gratitude.
  • Take long, deep breaths.
  • Exercise.
  • Get some extra zzzz’s.
  • Remind yourself that this too, shall pass.
  • Rediscover your sense of humor and laugh.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Spend some time in nature.
  • Meditate.
  • Become a realistic optimist and focus on positive outcomes of the current situation.
  • Have a good cry.
  • Forgive…yourself and others.
  • Eat healthy food and resist junk food/stress eating.
  • Do something you find to be fun.
  • Slow down.
  • Practice boundaries (learn to say no when needed)
  • Forgive others’ poor behavior.
  • Refuse to let irrational ideas and thoughts swim around in your head.
  • Visualize yourself in a peaceful place.
  • Pray or other spiritual practices.
  • Quit procrastinating and tackle some items on your to-do list.
  • Call a friend who is able to put you at ease.
  • Fill in the blank (what works for you?) __________________________.

Create an Action Plan

Now that you’re aware of your triggers, understand what you’re feeling, and have a few techniques to use,  it’s time to create a plan. Grab a journal and write about these prompts:

1-The stress symptoms I need to notice and pay attention to are:

2-My current stress triggers, including both situations, people, and circumstances, are:

3-How do I currently deal with these stressors?

4-What’s a better way I could respond to these stressors?

5-What is one technique I can incorporate to remind myself to engage in stress management, as I begin to recognize my symptoms?

6-When do I anticipate the next stressful situation to happen?

7-What will I do when it occurs?

If you’re struggling with creating an action plan, consider teaming up with a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you.

I get it–changes are hard–but remember the jar of pickles. Who wants to be splattered by pungent negativity every time you lose control of your emotions? Sure, it’s tough to adjust how we respond to the stresses of life, but well worth the effort to learn to open your jar of emotions slowly and carefully so you and others can enjoy its contents.

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” —Steve Maraboli

 

Managing Work-Related Stress with EQ

Article contributed by guest author Deb Westcott.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is critical to being able to manage stress. Out of all the major EQ competencies, the most powerful tool at your disposal is self-awareness. It allows you to know what your body is telling you, as well as be mindful of how you are adapting internally to outside stressors such as headaches, muscle tension, unsupportive self-talk, worry, and fatigue.

Here are 8 simple things you can do from the comfort of your own desk to combat stress every day:

1. Deep Breathing
The no. 1 most important and most successful stress reducer— resets your body and produces a physiological response.

2. Engage Your Senses
Listening to music, using scented lotion or candles, looking at vacation pictures, playing with stress balls – all of these actions reduce cortisol and increase oxytocin, which disrupts the stress reaction in your body.

3. Visualize a Happy Place
Seriously! It changes your mindset and hits the “restart” button in your body.

4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
A long phrase for listening to where your body is hurting and actively working on relaxing those muscles, one by one. Roll your shoulders, stretch your arms above your head, touch your toes.

5. Laugh
Laughing not only releases endorphins and fosters brain connectivity— it tends to be contagious!

6. Take a Break
(Okay, so there’s one of these that you shouldn’t do at your desk.) Stand up, walk outside, and let your eyes focus on something in the distance. A change of perspective can do you good!

7. Self-Awareness
Stop, listen to what you are saying to yourself, and make sure it’s supportive and positive.

8. Change How You Communicate With Others
Say no, set boundaries, be assertive, and ask for help.

Unless we are present, our bodies and minds react to stress. Knowing ourselves and creating a pro-active plan to reduce stress is our best tool.

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