Is Your Stress Self-Created?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

“This is insane.  The intensity is too much. I cannot work this way much longer”.  In the past several weeks, these words repeatedly came from a young leader’s mouth.  She is experiencing a high degree of stress because, she says, her job is currently beyond busy; it’s “insane”.    When I ask her what specifically is making it insane, she points to an endless list of high priority tasks she needs to accomplish, plus, the extra customer issue she is dealing with due to a problem with a product her team is delivering, AND, the presentation she has to give to the executive staff the next day to update them on this customer issue.  That and because two of her key employees have recently resigned, she is short staffed.  When looking at all she is dealing with, there is no doubt it’s a lot; however, much of the stress she feels is self-created.  There are countless things occurring around her (urgent requests, customer problems, employees resigning) that she cannot control; however, she can control how she perceives these things and how she chooses to deal with them.

Her initial reaction is to perceive whatever event happens outside of her control as “stressful”.   The presentation to the executive staff is really stressful. Why? Because it’s adding to what she has to “deal with” and causing her to take on more work.  Plus, it will be a difficult presentation due to the sensitivity of the customer problem (these are all her words and how she is observing the situation).  This reaction is a habit she developed over many years working in high profile positions.   Yet, she has a choice on how to perceive these external events.  She can choose to change the internal voice track that immediately kicks in and says, “Oh my goodness, this is insane. There is too much to do” to something different.  As soon as that voice track begins to play in her mind, the stressful reaction kicks in and her body responds appropriately.   She gets caught in the loop of “this is insane” and it continues until some of the tasks get completed or work gets removed from her plate.  This behavior can keep her in a perpetual state of stress.

Instead, she can choose to respond in a less reactive way.  She can choose to not exaggerate her thoughts, which will eventually ease her reactions.   If you think about it, the external event does not really cause the stress.  Our reactions to the event are what cause stress.  If it were the external event that caused stress, everyone would get stressed over the same things.   However, it’s more about how we classify the event and the way we frame what is happening around us that creates the stress (or not).

Pay attention to the internal dialogue that kicks in when you find yourself feeling stressed.  What can you do to change that?  Instead of thinking that losing two key staff members is “something else to deal with”, why not think of it as an opportunity to add two great new people to your team?  It will take time and practice but once you begin to change how you react to the events that occur around you, you will stop most of your self-created stress.

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