In this day and age a majority of Americans would claim to have moderate to high levels of stress. With overwhelming levels of stress, understanding stress and becoming familiar with stress management is becoming a critical skill that everyone should be aware of. So, what is the best way to manage stress?
The Difference Between and Stress
I have come to realize that in dealing with stress, we need to understand what kind of stress we are dealing with. I have learned a lot about stress the last couple of years. It is amazing what experience teaches us. For the sake of understanding, I will simply refer to these kinds of stress as Type Type I and Type II.
What is this type of stress? I would describe Type I as stress about things that lie outside of our control. This stress is the result of feeling powerless. Type I will typically rob you of sleep and leave you feeling in a near permanent state of exhaustion. You might notice your appetite diminishes or skyrockets. Your motivation is gone and you have a hard time concentrating on anything.
In June of 2012, I became a Father for the first time. Anybody who has experienced the joy of becoming a parent can relate with the feeling I will try to describe: you’re on top of the world, it as though everything comes into focus. Staring at a little one and knowing you helped create that life is an incredible, life-changing moment. I was on top of the world. I have never felt love like I did when my daughter opened her eyes, and our eyes met for the first time. I was in love, and I knew it was a love that would last forever. Such is the power of becoming a parent, you finally understand joy to a level you could not have imagined before.
That joy quickly became sorrow, sorrow became despair, and despair became stress when we heard that our beautiful, perfect daughter had a heart defect and the severity was critical. She had Pulmonary Valve Stenosis. Essentially, the outflow of blood is obstructed at the pulmonary valve, which is part of the right ventricle of the heart. Forgive me if I butcher the following statement, I am not a doctor. Severity can range from mild (meaning little to no impact but needs to be fixed with a few months), moderate (needing attention sooner than later), severe (needs attention within a week or so), and critical (needs attention as soon as possible as it is life-threatening). Our Pediatrician recommended seeing a heart specialist because of a heart murmur. We will be forever grateful he did. After we were informed that our daughter was in critical condition at the completion of her checkup, we were checked into the hospital. We were not even allowed to hold our 16 day-old daughter. She had to lay flat in her bed while we waited for her operation.
I did not even clock out at work that day. I used my lunch break to drive to the hospital for the appointment. I remember the feelings that overwhelmed me when the doctor informed us of her situation. The feeling I remember most was the feeling of being absolutely and completely powerless to do anything. Stress became instant, it was a burden that made my knees shake and my hands tremble. Luckily, this short story has a very happy ending. The next morning, July 17, 2012 my daughter received heart surgery. We were told the surgery “could not have gone any better.” Today, we have a beautiful, happy, full-of-life (and sass) daughter.
When experiencing Type I stress, I wanted nothing more than to figure out what I could do to manage it. I highly recommend the following methodology: Freeze, Ponder, and Identify.
- Freeze! – Find a place and focus. If you do not have a physical place you can go, envision a location in your mind. I recommend a favorite place outdoors. Think of a waterfall, rock formation, or whatever makes your recall a place or a time when you were stress-free. Now, focus on your breathing. I typically follow the 4-2-1 method. Breathe in for four-seconds. Hold for one-second. Exhale for two-seconds. Pause for one-second. Repeat. Why is this important? It allows you an opportunity to reset. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. Once you have focused on something other than your stress, you will find you have the ability to think about it in new ways. This leads to the next step.
- Ponder – Try and focus on seeing things from multiple perspectives. This is easier than it sounds. Think of those closest to you, specifically people that seem to be masters of stress-management. What would their perception of your problem be? Think about it from as many angles as possible. Right them down. As difficult as it might seem, you need to train yourself to step away from your emotions when pondering Type I stress. If you are unable to ponder, repeat the Freeze step for another 5-10 minutes and try again.
- Identify – Now that you have analyzed your stress from multiple angles, identify what you can control. Why is this important? Finding ‘something’ we feel we have control over allows us to not feel completely powerless which is one of the main fuels for Type I stress. For an example, I will use an example from the heart surgery I spoke about earlier.
- Things I could not control: her condition, the skill of the doctors, the timing of it all, her age.
- Things I could control: being there for her, educating myself on her condition, typical treatments, success of those treatments, and learning from the experience.
Not properly treating Type I stress can lead to illness, panic attacks, and overload. When overload becomes chronic, results can be disastrous. Proper stress management comes from within, Freezing, Pondering, and Identifying allows us to properly treat stress at its source.
As Type I stress lies outside of our control, Type II stress is the stress we experience that we can do something about. Type II typically is task, project, or goal specific. Type II is also most common in a work, school or any environment requiring time-management. Type II stress can give us energy and adrenaline, pushing us towards the goal. Working in a project environment, employees can spend many hours of overtime to meet a deadline. Type II can energize us IF we can properly manage it. As with Type I, Type II can lead to negative health implications if not managed properly.
The same methodology can be used for large projects, goals, and educational achievements. Typically, you want to break these large projects into clear, specific tasks that provide daily rewards.
- State the project – Say I am wanting to build a website. My goal for the website is to have a functional, well-built website. Now the goal, project, or task is specific and we know what we want to accomplish.
- Task the project – Break the project into smaller pieces, building on the example of our website, we will want to to do the following:
- Choose a theme and create your landing pages
- Define the content for each of your landing pages. You might have a blog that you can regularly fill with content. An About page can offer customers insight to who you are and what you are trying to accomplish. Each of these pages can be broken down further, and each of them can be assigned an estimated time of completion. Once you have a timeframe for each sub-task, you can roll the estimated time of completion up for the project. Repeat this step for each page you wish to build.
- Daily rewards – I cannot state how important this is. There is something very gratifying of checking tasks off a to-do list. A popular saying is, “what gets rewarded, gets repeated.” Find something to reward yourself with daily. I have found checking an item off of my to-do list is enough for me. I know some who reward themselves with a Netflix show if they hit their goals, basically a half-hour break of not working and relaxing in a way of their choosing. Find yours and make sure you earn it daily. Do not reward yourself unless you achieve your daily goals.
In addition to these methods of dealing with and properly managing stress, the ultimate method to stress-management is exercise. I will not expound upon the research that has taken place regarding how exercise helps or why as we will cover that in a future article.
What is your stress level? Take the test here.
Eskae | Creative Solution Architect @ Creative Business GURU