Reduce Stress in Any Situation

There are always 3 strategies you can use to tackle any stressful situation:

Problem  <–> Perception  <–>Physiology

Usually you might only think about trying to “change the problem”, and if you can’t do that then you might think you have to just put up with it.   This framework shows you that there is a lot more you can control than you think.

Here are two examples, first from a new client of mine who’s starting a company and second, from a participant at one of my speeches to a NY financial company who’s getting piled on at work.

The new client starting an exciting business is meeting with tons of people everyday and getting lots of advice.  She ends the day feeling unfocused, like she is going in a lot of possible directions and her head is spinning.   When she comes home at night her mind is racing and its hard to get to sleep, so she feels she is exhausted and running on fumes.  She believes: “I don’t have time to deal with stress!”

Here’s how she can reduce her stress using the 3 Stress Shifters:

1) She can “change the Problem”

  • Schedule in (and enforce) ‘quiet thinking time’ and work with a coach to get clear about the core mission of her new company.
  • Meet only with people who are relevant to that core mission; don’t just meet with people because she received a well-meaning virtual intro to them.
  • Do a 15-30 minute phone meeting to determine whether the fit warrants a face to face meeting.
  • Narrow the criteria she’s given to colleagues in asking for introductions.
  • Get an assistant to vet the introductions made to her.
  • Block times to meet with people in the same location, and block separate times to get work done.

2)  She can “change her Perception

  • She feels she has to ‘say yes’ to requests for meetings.  Though magic can happen when you meet in person,  she has to be aware when she is meeting with others for the ‘right reasons’ (mutually beneficial growth) versus trying to please other people and not owning her value enough to say “not now”.   Instead of worrying about ‘missing out’ on helpful connections,  she could trust herself that if she is focused she will be successful, and people will therefore still want to meet with her in the future.
  • Second,  she could trust herself and take her own counsel more.  She is letting her head spin with all the advice-getting and not filtering the input she’s getting through her own intuition.
3)  She can change her physiology
  • She could institute a 30-minute period before bed in which she turns off her electronics, and drinks chamomile tea or a magnesium supplement (such as Natural Calm) to deeply relax for sleep.
  • To fall asleep, or go back to sleep if she awakens in the middle of the night, she could use Left Nostril Breathing – cover your right nostril and breathe exclusively through your left nostril (this activates the calming part of your nervous system).  This breathing technique will put her back to sleep within 3-5 minutes.

Similarly,  if you are getting piled on with work at your company like the person I mentioned earlier, and management constantly changes priorities,  there are many strategies to tackle this stress.  Here’s just a few ways following the framework of the 3 stress shifters.

1) Change the problem:

Ask the manager who is giving you multiple assignments to establish priorities. Get explicit permission to change your deliverables and request ‘air cover’ with other bosses (when in doubt do the work for the people who are responsible for your promotion and pay!); To prevent rework and having to chase people down, do this when the work is being assigned:  Play out (in your mind) the steps it will take to complete the deliverable and anticipate the questions you will have – request permission for a few minutes before the end of the meeting to ask those.  Take time to find out whether a template exists or whether similar information exists elsewhere within the company.

2) Change your perception:

Ask yourself:  when you are working under a deadline and worrying that you might not finish on time  or achieve your high standards notice:  what are you imagining the consequence will be if you don’t succeed perfectly?  I’ve asked hundreds of corporate professionals this question at my presentations and what I hear is you probably have an image in your mind such as getting fired, living under a bridge, standing on the welfare line, etc!  This puts you in a state of fear.  You’re under enough pressure as it is,  CHANGE THE IMAGE in your mind so that you aren’t trying to do your best work with the sword of Damacles hanging over your head.

3) Change your physiology:

When the thoughts in your head are colliding with overwhelm, use this breathing exercise for rapid focus and clear thinking:   Inhale – Hold – Exhale through your nose for equal amounts of time (e.g., inhale count to 5, hold count to 5, exhale count to 5).  Within 90 seconds to 3 minutes you will get into a very focused, clearheaded state to conquer your work!

Give yourself more options when it comes to dealing with stressful situations.  Use strategies from each of the 3 Stress Shifters in order to feel immediately more in command of your situation.

Take a moment right now to apply the 3 stress shifters to any stress you are facing.  What can you do to “change the problem”, “change your perception”, and “change your physiology?”

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