By | Narendra Ambwani | Helping CEO/CXO Excel
The lock down and social distances have caused us a varying degrees of stress. The longer the period of isolation and bigger the change from normal, the higher is the level of stress.
Stress is harmful. It can lead to high BP, fatigue, depression, anxiety and even panic. How do we avoid the risks of stress?
Sharing my views and suggestions on managing stress. Each of us is unique and views may not be applicable to everyone. Also the article is not a comprehensive listing of all possible situations and issues.
What is stress? It’s emotional response to a situation or event. However, one must realise that stress is not caused by the event. External events or situations are not the cause of stress, anxiety or unhappiness. It is our response to the events. Covid-19 is not causing stress, what is causing stress is, how we are responding in our minds.
Thus, stress is not an external factor but an internal factor. We cannot control external event but we can determine what is internal and under our direct control. So, that is a good news, about the stress. It is created by us as a response, we alone are responsible for it and not an external event. We tend to externalize the cause, as we do not want to take ownership of our emotions and we under-rate our own capability to control our own emotions.
First step in managing a stress is to accept it, recognise and own it. Tell ourselves that yes, we have this stress and gauge its intensity. Intensity can be at a level of a concern, an anxiety, a worry or a panic. Only after we accept the fact, can we then, go to the next step of dealing with it. From emotional engagement, we can move to rational and intellect response level.
Second step is to rationally go deeper to understand the basic cause and find out what is triggering the stress. Many changes have occurred as a result of lock down. Each can be a cause of pain, anxiety, unhappiness, worry or stress. Let me share few examples and actions which you may consider to neutralize the pain. Not an exhaustive listing but gives you a clue on how to rationally challenge and bring back positive thoughts:
1. Missing my regular routine: Trigger (External) – No office, WFH Emotion (Internal) – I am at a loss and unhappy. Rational Thought (Internal) – I can be flexible and adapt. I can retain most elements of my routine, get ready at the same time, get dressed the same way and reach my desk at the same time etc. I am excited and happy to learn new way of working. I love challenges. My life is orderly again.
2. Routine is getting boring (Emotion): Rational Thought- it’s up to me to add variations. I will vary routines at my will and add interesting new activities.
3. No positive pats on my back: Trigger (external) – in my office I used to meet people, get thigs done and get positive strokes to my ego. I am unhappy as these are missing (Emotion, internal): Rational Thoughts – I can live without these strokes. I know when I do good job and I do not need appreciation from outside. I can set new goals, like playing with my family and spending time with elders, something I never did in normal routine. I can spend time on music, arts, literature, learning new language and set daily goals for such activities.
4. Worried about future: Trigger (External) – constant news update on spread of virus and deaths. Emotion – Sad, feeling depressed.
Rational thought: People are dying all the time for variety of reason like accidents, heart attacks, diseases, old age and so on. Yes, virus is bad but actually it’s one more disease. Birth and death are both part of life and I have to accept it as a cycle of life. However, I must focus on the present and ensure safe living for my family and society. Ensure that all precautions are taken, as advised by experts. I have hope and faith. I will do whatever I can do to stay safe and encourage others to be safe. I will limit my exposure to news channels and WA messages. Less exposure to negative news is better for my mind.
5. Missing being with friends – Trigger (external) – closure of clubs, bars, sports activities, movie theaters etc. Emotion- Unhappy and loneliness. Rational Thought- lock down is for safety of me and friends. Let me find alternative ways, now available, thanks to technology. I can play on-line games using new apps, I can chat or do video cocktail meets. I will set up a regular activities to remain engaged with friends. Surely, I will miss the hugs but I can live without them for safety reason. I can use OTT to watch old or new movies to entertain self and family. So many options for me to choose from now.
6. Missing personal touch – Trigger – social distance. Emotion – missing positive feeling of touch. Rational Thought – I can spend more time with my pets and my family, just being with loved one will make up for the missing touch.
These were but a few examples of how you can deal with emotions arising, as reactions to external triggers. So far, I have shared how to negate the negative emotions. But to be happy, we need to create positive emotions which can charge us up and create enthusiasm and hope. Here are three important actions:
· Count your blessings/ Gratitude: we are blessed and fortunate in many ways. Our mind is trained not to notice these positives. So make an effort and write a journal on what are the things for which you are thankful- 3 to 5 things. You are at home, secure, healthy, get adequate supply of food and comforts, have a family and all are safe and so on. There are millions who do not have your privileges. Gratitude is scientifically proven to benefit in many ways. It makes you feel positive, optimistic, reduces stress, increases resilience, improves self-esteem, improves sleep, lowers BP, helps you live longer, improves relationship, increases your success and makes you a better leader. Think of being thankful, at least 3-5 times in a day. It could be a mundane activity like walking in a park or something magnificent like arrival of a new born in the family.
· Giving and Acts of kindness: Lock down offers many opportunities for giving and kindness. Each act of giving, brings lots of positivity. It makes you feel generous and capable. Being kind to others whether friends or strangers, triggers cascade of positive effects. Gives you a sense of connection with others and wins you smiles and approvals. You can do small acts like buying medicines or home supplies for your elderly neighbours, helping security staff or servants in this crisis. Contributing to food for poor or supporting efforts of caregivers. You can find hundreds of opportunities to play a positive role and be generous in giving.
· Self-care: You have to keep yourself healthy. If your health is good you will have positive thoughts. Regular exercise and sleep of 8 hours is a priority. Find time to ensure your self-care. You can look after others and contribute to your work and society, only if you are keeping fit. Exercise creates positive energy. It’s even more important in lock-out period to drive away stress.
To conclude, the stress is never caused by external events or situations. It is our internal emotional response to an external trigger. Once we acknowledge its presence, we can deal with it in a rational manner and find actions to negate the stress. Gratitude, Kindness and your health will keep you in positive mood despite an extended lock-down.