HOW TO REDUCE STRESS IN TOUGH TIMES by John Ryder, PhD

Along with the inspirational quotes, the beautiful images, and my own personal and business blogs, I’ve added the writings and videos of various thought leaders. I trust you’ll like this addition to Behind the Scenes.

HOW TO REDUCE STRESS IN TOUGH TIMES by John Ryder, PhD

We’ve been through tough economic times here in America and it’s not over yet. A study from the American Psychological Association reported that well over half of Americans are still suffering anger, irritation and insomnia as a result of economic pressures and all that is understandable.

We don’t need to feel helpless, however. We can all work to achieve mental fitness by opening our “locks,” which are behaviors or habits that prevent us from finding solutions to problems and keep us from reaching our full potential.

Example: One of my clients coped with his high-stress job by eating too much and drinking heavily after work. These negative strategies (his locks) eased his stress momentarily but did nothing to increase his overall resilience and, in fact, undermined his mental fitness.

People who handle stress well use a series of skills, or “keys,” to overcome obstacles and unlock their full potential. The main ones…

DIRECT YOUR ATTENTION

Your brain can focus on one issue at a time (the laser mode), or it can expand its attention to everything around you (glow mode). Both skills are useful. An air-traffic controller, for example, has to keep track of fast-moving and constantly changing situations. He/she needs to be comfortable with the glow mode. But when you’re dealing with a specific problem, the laser mode is more efficient.

Many of us have a hard time meeting deadlines not because we have too much to do, but because too many things compete for our attention. We jump around from thought to thought and task to task. We’re mentally scattered, which means we excel at nothing — and stress builds. What to do…

*Decide what has to be done first.
The process of prioritizing requires that we rank tasks along two dimensions — what is most important and what is most urgent. Maybe there’s a project that you have to finish by the end of the day or a meeting later in the week to prepare for. Establish these as your one or two priorities, nothing more. Then selectively ignore everything else. Keep communication flowing when others are involved, and let them know where they are on the waiting list.

*Create reminders. Jot down your immediate goal on an index card. Keep the card somewhere in your field of vision. If your attention begins to wander, seeing the card will remind you to stay on target. Some people also find it helpful to set an alarm or cell phone to ring every 15 or 30 minutes as a reminder to focus on the goal.

STAY ALERT

We all get distracted when life is stressful. We forget to pay attention to what’s going on around us. That’s when we do stupid things, such as forget where we put our car keys or bounce a check because we forgot our account balance.

People who handle stress well almost always are observant. They watch what’s going on around them in order to acquire information and choose the best course of action.

What to do: Practice observing every day. When you put down your car keys at home, for example, notice the whole environment, not just the spot where you put them. Notice the table you put them on, the lighting in the room and so on. Not only will you find your keys more quickly, you’ll sharpen your ability to acquire new information.

KNOW THE OBJECTIVE YOU

We all have two visions of ourselves. There’s our subjective self-image, which often is colored by self-doubt and insecurity. Then there’s the objective self, which usually is closer to reality.

Many experienced people with impressive résumés fall apart when they lose their jobs and have to find new ones. They’re paralyzed with self-doubt because all they see is their subjective (inferior) self. It’s the equivalent of stage fright. Even though they have done the same type of work a thousand times, an inner voice tells them that they’re not good enough.

What to do: Do a reality check. Suppose that you have spent three months looking for work without success. Before doubting yourself, get objective verification. Show your résumé to different people in the field in which you’re applying. Ask them what they think about your qualifications.

Maybe you’re not qualified for the jobs you’re applying for. More likely, you’ve just had a run of very bad luck. Trust your objective history of accomplishment.

BOOST WILLPOWER

This is one of the most vital skills during difficult times. Someone with strong willpower, for example, will find it relatively easy to cut back on spending. Most people think that willpower just means resisting temptations. It’s much more than that. It’s a set of skills that you can use to achieve specific goals.

Example: Suppose that you’re in debt and know you need to create a budget and stick to it, but you’ve never been very good at that. Willpower means knowing your weakness… identifying ways to correct it… and then taking the necessary steps to improve it. These might include taking a personal finance class at a community college or getting a book on that topic from the library.

What to do:
Some people naturally have more willpower than others, but everyone can develop more. The trick is to start small. Maybe your goal is to save 10% of your paycheck each month, but the first step is to reduce your credit card debt by paying off 10% more than the minimum payment each month.

REPLACE NEGATIVE PATTERNS

We’re creatures of habit. Any behavior that’s repeated a few times can become an automatic pattern. These patterns can be positive (such as arriving at work on time) or negative (thinking you’re going to fail).

Negative patterns are particularly hard to manage because they’re often internalized — we don’t always know that we have them. People often have an inner voice that says things such as, I can’t succeed… I’m not smart enough… It’s not worth my trouble.

Negative self-talk has real-world effects because it guides our behavior and prevents us from coping effectively with difficult situations.

What to do: Pay attention to the thoughts that go through your mind. Are they helpful and affirming? Or do they inspire fear and anxiety?

When your thoughts are negative, create opposite mental patterns. When you think, I’ll never get this project done, consciously come up with a positive alternative and say it aloud if you can or to yourself if the situation warrants. Be specific. Rather than something general, such as I can do it, say something such as, I’m glad to be completing this project with pride, on time. Say it three times.

This might sound like a gimmick, but our brains like routines. Focusing your mind on positive outcomes — even if it seems artificial at first — causes the automatic part of the brain to build more positive thought patterns that enable us to achieve more. The key is to constantly monitor yourself. Are you aiming at the center of the target? If not, refocus on the bull’s-eye.

– John Ryder

If you’re interested in a complimentary 30-minute business strategy session, for more information, please refer to my Behind the Scenes Consulting. If you have questions, please email me at Consulting@RobertFinkelstein.com. I welcome your comments below. Thank you.

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