We all know that living under stressful conditions has serious emotional, even physical, consequences. I know I do. Recently so much happened in my life that caused me to have 25 heart attacks. So why do we have so much trouble taking action to reduce our stress levels and improve our lives?
Researchers at Yale University finally have the answer. They found that stress reduces the volume of grey matter in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control.
So experiencing stress actually makes it more difficult to deal with future stress because it diminishes your ability to take control of the situation, manage your stress and keep things from getting out of control.
A vicious cycle if they’re ever was one.
But don’t be disheartened. It’s not impossible to reduce your stress levels; you just need to make managing stress a higher priority if you want to reverse this effect. The sooner you start managing your stress effectively, the easier it will be to keep unexpected stress from causing damage in the future.
Luckily, the plasticity of the brain allows it to change, and rebuild damaged areas as you practice new behaviours. So implementing healthy stress-relieving techniques can train your brain to handle stress more effectively and decrease the likelihood of ill effects from stress in the future.
Say NO - When it’s time to say no, avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I'm not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honours your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfil them.
Disconnect - Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. Taking regular time off the grid helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment.
Neutralize Toxic People - Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and highly stressful for most. You can control your interactions with toxic people by keeping your feelings in check. When you need to confront a toxic person, approach the situation rationally. Identify your own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel.
Don’t Hold Grudges - The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Means you’re holding onto stress and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better now but can also improve your health.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe they can make things happen and those who believe things happen to them.
The first group are convinced that the outcome of their lives and careers is more or less in their own hands, and they wouldn't have it any other way.
The second group take more of a Forrest Gump approach—they sit around and wait for the bus to take them somewhere.
Studies suggest that people who feel that they control the events in their lives and are confident in their abilities end up doing better on nearly every important measure of work performance.
In studies, these individuals were found to do the following:
Sell more than other employees do
Give better customer service
Adjust better to new assignments
Take home an average of 50 to 150% more in annual income
Of course, when good times are rolling, nearly all of us believe we have the world by the tail. What makes the difference? Don’t get overwhelmed when the going gets tough.
Everyone feel intense stress and anxiety when hard times strike, but use this anxiety differently. Since we believe that we have control over the outcomes in our lives, anxiety fuels passion instead of pity, drive in lieu of despair.
So, if you are staring yet another job-hunting rejection in the face, refuse to wave the white flag. Redouble your efforts.
Here’s How It Works
You should outperform everyone else. Have the ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure, this has a direct link to your performance.
Anxiety is an absolutely necessary emotion. Our brains are hard-wired such that it’s difficult to take action until we feel some level of anxiety (also called stress). In fact, performance peaks under the heightened activation that comes with moderate levels of anxiety.
The trick is to manage your stress/anxiety and keep it within optimal levels in order to achieve top performance.
As you lose self-control, you lose your ability to cope with stress. It becomes harder for you to keep yourself out of stressful situations, and you’re more likely to create them for yourself (such as by overreacting to people). The Yale research shows us why so many people get sucked into progressive rounds of greater and greater stress until they completely burn out (or worse).
Dwindling self-control is particularly scary when you consider that stress affects physiological functions in the brain. And stress doesn't stop there—it’s linked to depression, obesity, and decreased cognitive performance.
Here’s How You Do It
If you don’t have the tools in place to keep your anxiety in check when it comes on strong, you’ll never realize your full potential.
You can get better at managing the anxiety you inevitably feel when facing difficult and uncertain situations. You just need to follow the steps that successful and empowered people take to keep their anxiety from taking over.
The key thing to understand before getting started is that you are indeed facing uncertainty—the outcome of your future has not been decided. It’s up to you to develop the beliefs and mental toughness.
Expect and Prepare for Change
People change and businesses go through ups and downs. It’s a fact that even the empowered people can’t control. They've found themselves out of work. Their companies have fallen on tough times. The difference is that they believe they are fully capable of dealing with changes and making something positive happen.
In other words, they are mentally prepared for change—and you can be too.
If you don’t anticipate change naturally, you need to set aside some time regularly—either every week or every other week—to create a list of important changes that you think could possibly happen. The purpose of this task is not to predict every change you’ll face. Rather, it will open your mind to change and sharpen your ability to spot and respond to impending changes. Even if the events on your lists never happen, the practice of anticipating and preparing for change will give you a greater sense of command over your future.
Focus on Your Freedoms, Not Your Limitations
We've all had the old mantra life isn't fair beaten into our brains since we were young. This mantra is a voice of despair. While it’s true that we sometimes have limited ability to stop negative events from occurring, we are always free to choose our response.
On your list of possible changes from step one, write down all of the positive ways in which you can take action and respond to each change. You’ll surprise yourself with how much control you can wield in response to seemingly uncontrollable circumstances.
Rewrite Your Script
Step three is going to be the hardest because it requires you to change the mode of thinking that you’ve grown accustomed to. Over time, we all develop mental scripts that run through our heads and influence how we feel about our circumstances and what we do in response to them. These scripts go so far as to tell us what to say and how to act in different situations.
In order to be empowered, you’ll need to rewrite your script.
To do this, recall a tough time you went through recently. What was it you believed about your circumstances that prevented you from making the most of your situation or responding more effectively?
Write this script down, and label it your hard-luck script.
Now go ahead and write a more effective and empowered mental script that you wish you had followed next to it. This is the empowered script you will use to replace your hard-luck script.
File these away so that you can pull them out and study them whenever you are facing stress or strong anxiety. When you do pull your scripts out, compare your present thinking to your hard-luck and empowered scripts. This will keep you honest and enable you to adjust your thinking so that you’re operating from an empowered script.
These periodic reminders will eventually rewrite your scripts completely, enabling you to operate from an empowered script at all times. Hope that makes sense..
Spot and Stop Negative Self-Talk
A big step in managing stress and anxiety involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you dwell on negative thoughts, the more power you give them.
Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts.
When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing, and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed.
You can bet that your statements aren't true any time you use words like “never,” “worst,” or “ever.” If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out.
Identifying and labelling your thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and anxiety and move toward a positive new outlook.
Count Your Blessings
Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn't merely the “right” thing to do; it also lessens anxiety because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
Research conducted found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels.
Bringing It All Together
Overwhelming anxiety and empowerment are mutually exclusive. Any time you are overcome with enough stress/anxiety to limit your performance, just follow the five steps above to empower yourself and regain control.
Hope it helps.