The simple strategy to keep stress from derailing your life
Got stress? There are tons of tips and tricks by “experts” on how to decrease your stress.
This isn’t that post.
This is about the unavoidable stressors, those times when overwhelm is placing you one step away from flipping out, crying, or crawling in a hole.
We all have things we default to when the shit hits the fan, say perhaps, in the middle of a transition to a new EMR system at work or a global pandemic. You know your defaults; surfing social media, binging netflix, eating (or drinking) delicious things that some may consider unhealthy, procrastinating, complaining, or continuous shopping online. These things make us “feel better” in the moment but unfortunately generally compound our stress when they ultimately sabotage other things that we want to achieve.
“I just can’t exercise tonight, I am too stressed out from work.”
Then, to make it sound like self-care,
“I just need to relax.”
But here’s the thing, tomorrow, exercising would have been much more “restorative” than the glass of wine and netflix, and now I add “disappointed in myself” to my stress levels. Great.
Let’s deconstruct this a little and get to the strategy already.
Step 1: Accept that stress is a normal part of life.
Ok, don’t get crazy on me here. I know that there are ways to decrease stress and control stress and minimize stress. I believe this is also important. It’s not the point today.
I like to assume the 50/50 rule. Fifty percent of life is good and 50% is not as good (I won’t go so far as to say “bad”). So assuming this is the case, it’s not a bad idea to have a strategy for the 50% that is less than stellar.
Step 2: Know the problem.
So 50% of life has the potential to be stressful. We all know that stress has negative health impacts including impaired digestion, elevated blood pressure and cortisol levels, weight gain, headaches, impaired immunity. Add to this it can significantly impact our day to day focus and we’ve got one big mess.
Not only can it make us sick, it just makes some things much harder to do:
-any task that involves multiple steps
-getting restorative sleep
-making healthy food choices
-making new goals
If we have the potential for some level of stress 50% of the time, what are we going to do about it?
Step 3: Make a game plan (hint: this is the strategy).
Enter a great football analogy- a story about knowing exactly what play to run when it is 4th and 10 with 5 seconds left on the clock...
Sadly I don’t know enough about football to even construct this analogy so let’s talk about a code instead. When someone codes we don’t sit around saying “this is stressful”. We don’t ask around for opinions or complain that it is a really inconvenient time. We follow the algorithm: CPR/assess rhythm/shocks vs. meds/ CPR/ intubation etc.
WE DON’T FIGURE IT OUT IN THE MOMENT. We default to what we know works.
Having a well thought out game plan ahead of time can literally save your life.
Instead of answering the question
“what do you do when your stressed?” with
“eat a box of girl scout cookies and pin 100 things on pinterest that I'll never make”,
you rattle off your algorithm.
So, what’s your algorithm going to be?
What are the things that you often let go of when you are stressed out?
What are the things that make you feel in control? Or happy? Or calm?
PLAN IT NOW, AHEAD OF TIME!
Here’s my game plan that I resorted to this week to manage IT debacles, a medical assistant that didn’t have access to the system to do intakes for my patients and a schedule that never merged so patients were double booked.
It's my personal strategy for managing stress so it doesn’t manage me.
Protect my sleep: don’t stay up late for any reason at all.
Plan my food for the week: prepped all my lunches Sunday and brought it all to work Monday. Planned a general idea for each night’s dinner. Why burden myself with annoying decisions like that in the moment.
Exercise in some way, shape, or form: I stuck with low intensity walking but went out even in the rain. As someone wise once said, “I only exercise on the days I want to feel good.”
Use a meditation app to get to sleep at night and prevent crazy racing thoughts.
Decide how I am going to show up at the beginning of the day, and write it down.
Focus on one thing at a time.
Don’t beat myself up if stuff doesn’t go as planned: This one’s the hardest. I use a mental ctrl/alt/delete on the thoughts as they come up.
This is my 7 item, non-negotiable game plan for when I am stressed (and yes, I have it written down). I don’t do it because I should, I do it to feel good. If I feel good, I can have mental energy to spare to keep moving forward. I can push away some of the negative consequences of stress.
If you practice this enough, you don’t need motivation, you don’t need to figure out how to stay on track, you FOLLOW THE PLAN. It’s just what you do. It’s your new default.
What needs to make it to your algorithm before we resort to the defibrillator?
Let me know what your game plan is, I would love to hear from you. Need help figuring it out? Contact me for a free interest call.