The Stress of Stress

I received an email last week from someone who had completed our 6 week personal resilience programme which we deliver in several companies (message for info) and whilst they were doing great from attending the programme and were confident that they now had a full toolkit of resources to help them through the challenges of life, one thing they noticed was that they were most nervous about having to put them into action:


I find myself anticipating a future stressful situation and become stressed at the thought of it, do you have any advice on how to deal with the stress of anticipating stress?

As the Stoics and modern day behavioural scientists have noted, our experiences are not dependent upon the events that happen in our lives but rather the 'stories we tell ourselves about them' (our interpretation of them) and this works past, present and future.


In this situation, because the delegate has learned lots of new skills, tools and techniques to help them feel more resilient and confident, that inner voice can become fearful that 'we shouldn't get too confident'. It's a familiar story for many of us, when things are going well, our inner voice likes to remind us that it can all change in an instant and to be prepared for things going wrong at any minute, the challenge of this is that it robs us of the joy we can feel in the present moment.


So, how do we stop that inner voice sabotaging our success, progress and happiness?

Here are three of my favourite tools to help you manage that:


1) Pay attention to the stories - what is that inner voice telling you? Is it creating stories based on little or no evidence? Is it telling you that you will never be able to cope? Is it telling you that you don't deserve happiness?


Sit with the voice for a moment and ask yourself what story am I telling myself about this? In the case of the person who emailed, the story is that "I may not be able to cope with a future stressful situation", but the reality is, there is no evidence to support this. So far, you have a 100% success rate of getting through every single stressful and challenging moment of your life, your evidence, in fact, completely contradicts the story. When you notice that you are telling yourself a story which is causing you stress, remember that you are the author. It is time to rip up that version and write a new one, I always suggest choosing a story that brings you the most peace in the moment. For this example, something like "I now have lots of tools to cope with whatever life brings" or "I am strong and resilient and will thrive through challenges".


2) Name & Shame it - if our inner saboteur is attempting to sabotage our progress by telling us that we may have something awful to face in the future, we do not need to listen to him or her. Firstly, identify if this is your voice or the voice of your inner saboteur, the easiest way to do this is ask yourself "Do I want to feel like this?" If the answer is 'no', then this is not how YOU really feel, but it is your inner saboteur over reacting.


When you recognise that this is not what you really think, you can start to silence your inner saboteur. My favourite way to do this is to give it a name. Name it something you don't respect or value, after an annoying TV character or maybe even a politician you don't like, and then every time you hear that voice saying something you don't want to hear, silently say "Be quiet Bob" (or whatever you've named them!). It may sound silly but nobody else needs to know you're doing it and it gives you back control of your thoughts and enables you to focus upon more helpful ones.


3) I am excited - Fritz Perls (founder of Gestalt therapy) stated that "Fear is excitement without breath". When looking at the emotion of fear, we see that fear and excitement create almost identical physiological responses within us, except for how we breathe.



When in fear, our breath is shallow, rapid and often held for periods of time. When excited, our breath is deeper and more rhythmic. Simply telling yourself "I am excited" and taking some slow deep breaths is enough for your mind to calm and for the stress response to lessen, you can repeat it as often as you need.


It is normal for all of us to sometimes fear the future but being fearful limits us in being able to respond as our best self, so try these techniques the next time you are stressed about pending stress!


If you would like to learn some breathing techniques to help lower stress and anxiety you can enjoy our free e-Learning course , if you would like to boost your resilience you can sign up for our most popular Resilience Boost course and if you would like us to come into your organisation to help give your employees the resources needed to help them manage professional and personal challenges, you can contact us !


If you have a question you would like us to help you with on one of our blogs, please feel free to email us.

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