High workload, functioning or non-functioning routines, blips in support systems, goings-on in the world …. take your pick and there are a multitude of triggers in everyone’s life that can, every once in a while, dampen one’s mood. When dealing with stressors like this, there is a quick and simple method I recommend to all my coachees and trainees in these moments and that I rely on at stressful points in my life.
It consists of three simple and effective steps:
I like the simplicity here, the fact that there is an immediate effect that can help, as well as the space it leaves for adaptation to anyone’s daily life and ability.
This is my kind of self-care. Not self-care with the goal of over-optimising your life, having to have the perfect exercise routine, perfect nutritional plan, etc… perfect life.
This method is routed in life’s natural imperfections, without which, let’s face it, life would be pretty boring. The things that make life more interesting, and, sometimes, more exhausting.
It is also routed in my belief that while we care for ourselves, we can better care for/collaborate with/connect with/…. others.
For more on mental health care also check our Sophie Scott’s resources, who does some great work.
One of the first things I do with emerging leaders I work with is to establish a framework of their values to guide them as a leader, a recognition that while it is their job to lead others it is also their job to lead themselves, and a care routine that they can use for themselves, and, in extension, also their teams.
When dealing with stress humans fall back on ancient, intuitive behavioural patterns that can, but don’t always, support our goals.
Today I go through all three steps, but focus in more detail on the first one.
So lets look:
The first thing to do when registering stress is to recognise that our body is running through a near-instantaneous, subconscious reaction to a stressor of some sort. This triggers a physical ‘fight or flight‘ reaction in our body via the amygdala and hypothalamus. Very useful when a saber tooth tiger, or, more likely nowadays, a bus is rumbling towards you, but maybe not so useful when you are preparing for, say, a big speech or your wedding.
Your body will run through this process whether the stressor is positive or negative and the key thing here to remember is that this is a normal, even life-saving process and that not all stress is bad.
Positive stress is what propels us towards high performance over short periods of time and is great for competitions in sport, an exciting event in your life (getting married, going on holiday…) and learning something new.
Negative stress decreases performance and comes with feelings of anxiety and is often perceived outside of one’s coping abilities (conflict, injury, illness…). Also, long-term, it brings serious health risks with it.
Check out more on that here.
Once the reaction has been kicked off and we want to make sure we can adequately deal with the situation, a key first step is to breath:
- breath in through your nose and count to 3 or 4
- Pause for a count of up to 2
- breath out your mouth for up to twice as long as breathing in, so up to 8.
- repeat several times.
This will help your system slow down again. It will lower your pulse rate and signal to your brain and body that the emergency is in hand and all is well.
Make sure you can get rid of some of the energy triggered by the fight and flight reaction and move:
- Go for a walk in the fresh air.
- Go to the gym. For a run… whatever suits you and your situation. This will relieve muscle tension and enable more regular, deep breathing.
- Particularly if you are dealing with regular, longer term stressful situations, make sure that you can regularly integrate movement into your routine.
And finally, the third step:
- particularly important in the case of negative stress, but lets celebrate the positive events too!
- Get in touch with someone you trust and are comfortable with.
- Share your experiences, feelings concerns with that person.
- Find a professional to support you if required.
Human connection is essential to people. It is a fundamental need all humans have and sharing your experiences with one another gives you a feeling of togetherness and belonging that nothing else can.
Hope this helps you and get in touch if you have anymore questions!