Stress is your choice. So stop choosing it!
Last year, my flight was delayed so I went to the airport later. As I was on the train there, I get a notification that boarding for my flight had started.
I checked the departure time. It wasn’t delayed any more. Fuck.
Now I had two choices.
I could sit on the train in a panic thinking about what the fuck I was going to do if I missed my flight.
Or I could sit on the train and keep listening to my podcast and be grateful that sneakers are cool again and my New Balance and jeans could sprint me through the airport.
I chose the second option.
The actual stressor was me missing my flight. Which hadn’t happened yet.
I decided I could stress about that when it did happen.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t taking some mighty deep breaths and battling with my panic thoughts. I was.
But I knew how pointless any stress was and I didn’t want to choose it.
When I got to the airport, my New Balance and I sprinted to the gate and the bloody flight was still over an hour late.
The plane hadn’t even landed yet! The app was just being an absolute piece.
Lucky I decided not to stress.
You can decide this too for any stress life throws at you.
Stress is created by our thoughts.
It’s not what’s happening around us. It’s the thoughts we have about what’s happening around us.
I can sit here now and imagine the 50 tasks I’ll be juggling at work next week and boom, stress.
I don’t even have 50 tasks. I’m just making them up!
But it’s enough to trigger my stress hormones and get my body reacting.
Our thoughts are the very core of everything we do and they trigger every emotional reaction we have.
See my handy diagram ;)
The amazing news is that we don’t have to feel stress.
It’s our choice.
We have a choice of how we want to think and what perspective we want to have for anything in our lives.
So we have the choice about how stressed we feel.
It may not feel like it though. One of the reasons why stress is so horrible is because we feel so out of control.
We can’t change what is happening and feel powerless.
But you have all the power. It’s all in your thoughts. As soon as you change your thoughts, everything changes.
First and second level stressors
It’s all well and good saying we don’t have to feel stress but stressful shit happens every day and we can’t avoid it.
We live crazy, busy lives dictated by tasks, deadlines and schedules.
All the stress that happens to us from the world is a first level stressor. Those aren’t a problem if we know how to deal with them.
But most of us don’t. We create more stress on top of that stress with our reactions and thoughts.
These are second level stressors i.e. us blowing it up in our heads.
Here’s a cracker of an example for ya from my very interesting life.
This week I made a big pot of mashed potato with dinner for boyfriendo and I. He ate before me while I was doing a coaching session and when I came downstairs to eat, there was only a container of veggies.
“Where’s the leftover mashed potato?”
“Oh, I ate it all. I didn’t know you wanted any.”
“Are you serious?” Instant lump of annoyance in my chest.
FIRST LEVEL STRESSOR
No mashed potato.
SECOND LEVEL STRESSORS
All the thoughts that followed.
I specifically told him I wanted some for lunch and now I have no lunch.
Did he seriously not listen to me at all?
I mashed the shit out of that potato so it wasn’t lumpy and I get none of it.
Why would he not even think that I would want some? That’s actually stupid.
Wtf am I going to have for dinner? I already gave him my piece of fish so I’ve just got bloody veggies.
How did he even eat that much potato!?
I’m thinking all these things while he’s apologised about three times and is washing the (empty) mashed potato pot and all the other dishes.
Now if I listen to all the annoyance thoughts, it’s just escalating my stress reaction and making for one very pissy Tahirih.
And let’s be serious, that’s ridiculous.
IT’S MASHED POTATO!
So I changed my thoughts.
I know I’m not even hungry because I ate while I was cooking.
I can have my veggies on rice at work tomorrow.
He didn’t do it on purpose and he’s been in the lounge by himself for about over an hour waiting to spend time with me.
It’s actually impressive that he ate so much potato. I can’t even be mad at that.
Lump in my chest gone. Stress gone.
Be the gap
This is a funny example but we have tiny things like this happen to us every day.
Once you’re aware of the first and second levels of stress, it’s very clear that most of our stress comes from that second level.
Our goal is to try to be the gap between those two.
To know that we are having a reaction to a stressor and then stop it at that.
Pull the plug on that rising tide of emotion.
How can we do that? How do we create the gap?
Here are some handy, dandy tips!
Check your thoughts
Just like I did with my near mashed potato wobbly, look at what thoughts you’re having and ask yourself if they are necessary and if you can turn them around.
Even better, call them out as second level stressors. The separates them from the actual stressor and gives you back your control.
Second level stressors are created by you so you have all the power to stop them.
2. Separate out the feelings of stress
Don’t get swamped. Stress is not just a feeling that dumps itself on you. It’s lots of different reactions that are happening in your body.
Divide and conquer people!
Stress for me usually feels like this:
Frazzled, racing mind ~ Headache ~ Tight chest ~ Butterflies in my tummy ~ Muscles tense and fidgety
This feels like crap.
With all of them happening at once there’s no wonder we all feel like sliding under our desks at work and curling into a ball sometimes.
Or eating. Or crying.
Or punching your colleague in the face. Whatever way you react.
Next time you’re feeling stressed ask yourself these three questions and write down the answers:
What physical sensations am I feeling?
What are my emotions?
What thoughts are in my head?
This instantly stops your stress feeling like a big overwhelming wave and then you can focus very specifically on ways to help yourself.
Frazzled mind? Write down everything you think you need to do and then choose two things to focus on getting done.
Tight chest? Breathe. Open up some space. Rub it.
Speaking of breathing…
3. B R E A T H E
Stress is our bodies pumping out hormones to protect us from danger. But we aren’t cavemen and a long-ass email with 20 action points from your boss isn’t quite as threatening as a lion.
Our bodies don’t know this though so they are in action. Fight or flight mode engaged.
Breathing deeply and focusing on the movement of your breath tells your body that you aren’t in danger. That you are safe and it can stop with those hormones.
Just do ten breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Help your body so then you have the energy in your mind to tackle whatever’s happening.
4. Drop shit
I get stressed because I have a to do list as long as my mermaid hair (official covers my nipples now!) and I don’t have the time to get it all done.
Here’s a pearl of wisdom for you:
JUST BECAUSE YOU’VE WRITTEN IT DOWN DOESN’T MAKE IT A MUST DO.
You have made up the task that you need to do and the day that you want to do it. Does this mean it NEEDS to be done by then? Sometimes, we just create our own urgency around things which equals, you guessed it, stress.
Are there things you can move to another day or week? Are there things that you can delegate, ask for help on or just drop all together?
Dropping shit or parking it for later is very freeing and it means you can concentrate on the important stuff.
Mate, you’re stuck in traffic and your late. It’s happening. No point stressing about it.
Just let go of the struggle and accept what is happening.
Wanting things to be different from what they are is what causes us suffering. And by suffering I mean feeling upset, annoyed, stressed, angry, disappointed. All those good things.
Once you accept what is happening, you open yourself up to adapt and grow around it.
Must better than just bitching and moaning.
6. Get some bloody sleep
Notice that when you’re tired, stress seems way more intense? You can’t handle it as well, you’re more on edge and smaller things can trigger you.
So get some sleep! If you’re crazy busy at work or your life is a whirlwind, stop scrolling on Instagram and turn your bloody lights off!
A fresh head the next day makes all the difference.
Next time you’re feeling stressed. Think about what the actual stress is and how much power you have.
Change your thoughts. Change your perspective. Change the stress.
PS. Here’s a gem of me…
This is after nearly missing a ferry to Italy because we got stuck in the Montenegro & Croatia border control. There were only two ferries a week and if we missed this, we missed our flight home. I ran 1km with my bag and in my jandals to get to check in half an hour late and then run onto the boat.
Oh and my friend Soph was really sick and feeling horrible.
The ferry ended up leave over an hour late…
Outrageously stressful but Soph & I handled it with a smile!