Stress challenge day 6: Disrupting your automatic stress response

I guess this can be summed up by the words: shit’s about to get real.

Stress level (rating of 1-10; 10 being worst)? 5
Notes: Today was a tough day, and as I write this I can identify that I’m not stressed so much as I am frustrated. I couldn’t get what I wanted today, and so everything just gets harder and the deadlines get tighter. But I have a plan on what I need to do, and the plan is action. I didn’t let myself get overwhelmed, I just repeated to myself “do only what you can do”.

I’ve spent the last 5 days trying to get myself to a point where I have reduced my stress levels and can objectively review how I react in situations. Now it’s time to get real, and start putting the plans into action.

It’s about to become more than words on paper.

The challenge in this chapter is to learn to keep my cool when it would be so, so easy not to. The aim is to learn to identify when I’m overreacting, or stressing out. It’s easy to see when someone else is acting like that, not yourself. It’s tough to not get caught up in the moment.

Before I can interrupt my stress, I first needed to understand what my warning signs were. And you know what? That’s really tough, way more tough than I ever thought it would be.

I found I had to spend time researching the difference between stress and frustration, or anger. I needed to remind myself what “stress” is so that I knew if my symptom was a symbol of stress, or an emotion.

With all my focus on reducing stress, it had started to feel like it was a bit of a dumping ground for any sort of emotion other than happiness. Tired? Probably just stressed. Little bit upset, probably just my stress levels rising again. It felt like unless I was walking around with a smile on my face, then I was automatically “stressed”. I was struggling to find the line of regular emotion (including the negatives) and stressed.

From what I have read so far, and I may be totally wrong, stress is a reaction to the challenge. It’s what causes the emotion, or the physical reaction. It’s almost like it goes:

Event –> stress –> reaction

So feeling frustrated today, or even angry, showed that I was stressed. It’s ok to feel these emotions, and I should never ever try to stop myself from hiding any emotion. Instead I just need to focus on my reaction and how I manage my stress.

Once that had clicked in my head, it was easy to see what my typical way of reacting to stress was (before I got to the big blow out phase)

  • I feel annoyed by all the little things (that are usually minor)
  • I feel rushed, and everything has to be done now, now, now
  • I’m distracted and unable to focus
  • Physically I start to sit forward in my chair a lot; in comparison when I sit back in my chair I immediately notice more of a sense of being in control
  • My hands tense, and my typing speed drops (I average anywhere from 90 – 100wpm, so if it’s slower than that there’s a problem, and yes my workmates have complained before about the sound of me on a keyboard haha)
  • I just keep pushing myself, and don’t leave my desk (or the situation)
  • I become shorter with the way I talk to people
  • I’m fatigued, and just want to curl up on the couch and not talk to anyone

Now the important question, what do I need to do in those situations to help reduce my stress before it becomes a problem:

  • Go for a walk around the block. There’s been a large number of times I’ve felt sudden clarity on a subject just from 5mins of walking in fresh air, and I’ve already discussed the impact that running has on me. I’ve mentioned my need to go for a walk to colleagues of mine at work, who I’m very lucky to work with. In the past they have reminded me to get out, even on the days when I’m not losing it! Maybe they just want to get rid of me? In all seriousness, they genuinely care about my health, and for that I’m very grateful
  • Close my eyes, take a deep breath, count to 10, start again
  • Write a list of my priorities and make sure that I understand what is the most important thing for me to be doing right at that moment – spending those few minutes just reorganising myself is incredibly helpful
  • Explain to people that I understand their need for my time, but so that I can focus on a task right there and then see if there’s another time that we could discuss their request
  • If I can’t physically get out of the office (sometimes the weather won’t let me), hide in the toilet for a few minutes – just for some privacy and to take some deep breaths and centre myself (just have to hope that no one has been smelly in there beforehand!)
  • I’m not going to be perfect all the time, but when I do get to the point that I feel like I’m losing control, I think it would help to make a note of everything that is stressing me out, identify what is triggering it and come back to address those issues at a time where I’m in a better state of mind (don’t lose the opportunity to continue with the self-improvement)
  • Depending on whether it’s appropriate, schedule some time to work from home uninterrupted
  • Utilise my noise cancelling earphones – play some music that calms me down, and block out the noise

It’s almost as if I need to print out that list and keep it by my desk so that when I notice the symptoms I immediately have a “cheat sheet” to refer to on my action plan.

For anyone that knows me, are there any other indicators when I’m stressed that I may not be aware of?

What about those following along at home? Are there any indicators that you have that show when you’re feeling stressed?

This post is part of my 21-Day Stress challenge; for more information please see my background post here.