How do you manage stress in a situation you cannot control?
Here comes the chainsaw, ripping into your life and causing stress. You didn’t choose it, and you don’t get the choice of stepping aside and saying “no thanks.” Somehow you will need to figure out how to deal with the problem, and the stress it creates, without allowing it to affect your health.
I often use the chainsaw metaphor in my programs to describe situations such as an illness to yourself, your spouse, or your child, a financial or relationship change you didn’t see coming, or a crisis over which you have no control.
This week has been a chainsaw week for me. Let’s just say if television cameras show up to your school board meeting, it is not a good sign. As a board we had some tough decisions to make, and not everyone was going to be happy about them. But, here is the thing – we had to make them anyway. Given the high stakes political and economic environment, I’m certain this won’t be the last difficult, or unpopular, decision we have to make. The trick is to stay focused on the goal, doing what is best for the kids in our district, and not let the stress of the situation get out of control.
Our meeting on Monday reminded me of a storm strategy we use when we are sailing. When you are hit by a strong gust of wind, you can choose to “take it on the nose” – turn into the wind, let the sails flap, and ride it out. There is a lot of noise and it seems scary, but you are safe and once the gust passes, you can get back on course.
It is a good strategy – but it is not without cost. On a boat, letting the sails flap can damage them. In life, facing the problem head on causes stress – conflict is uncomfortable.
How do you keep the stress from causing damage?
- Pay attention: Are you eating more or less, sleeping more or less, feeling more muddle-headed, or avoiding interactions with people? Is your stomach in a constant knot, your heart rate elevated, are you getting headaches? All of these may be signs that your stress level is critical and you need to address it.
- Breathe: Just 5 deep breaths will begin to slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. Ten breaths will clear your mind. Ten minutes may give you a new perspective. Use the alarm on your phone and set aside two or three times per day to stop and breathe.
- Escape: Get away – get your mind off of the situation. A good book, a good friend, a guilty pleasure television program, or any diversion will do. This is especially helpful as a buffer before you turn in at night. Get your brain thinking about something else before you turn off the light!
- Give Yourself A Good Talking To! Positive self talk is important – whether it is a reminder to keep things in perspective, an affirmation about what is important, or an expression of your values. Here are a few I’m using this week:
“I will not allow the stress of a situation I cannot control to affect my health.”
“At the end of the day, I come home to people who love me.”
“I will always choose what is right over what is expedient or popular.”
Wishing you smooth sailing in troubled waters!
Eliz Greene works busy people to improve heart health, so they can work well, feel better, and stress less.
She is a heart attack survivor and the author of the Busy Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Heart as well as 3 other books on wellness. She writes one of the top 50 health and wellness blogs and is a sought-after heart health, stress management, & wellness speaker.
If you are planning a women’s wellness program, workplace wellness program or programs for healthcare professionals check out EmbraceYourHeart.com to see if Eliz would be a good fit with your organization.