I have been helping leaders deal with various issues for the past 20 years. More recently, I have seen a staggering increase in the number of people who seek coaching to help them cope with stress. This may not surprise you, since speed and performance are now an integral part of our daily lives. With the faster pace of change and the need to make decisions more and more quickly, our points of reference are constantly being redefined. We are over-stimulated and are living in an era of performance that is characterized by hyperactivity. I often say that our society is struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder!
To deal with this situation, we must equip ourselves to avoid getting caught in this whirlwind or developing spinning top syndrome (speed is what keeps the top spinning and we all know what happens when it slows down)!
I often remind people seeking my services how important it is to make a clear distinction between stress that we experience, i.e. that is out of our control (e.g., an car accident, death, illness, etc.) and stress that we impose upon ourselves (e.g., having an overloaded agenda, not taking a break from work, not allowing ourselves to make a mistake, never saying “no”, always having something on our minds, etc.). The stress that we experience is largely self-imposed and is so deeply rooted in our lives that it has become chronic. In other words, it has slowly evolved and become an integral part of everyday life. In the long run, this type of stress is very harmful…for body and mind.
There is good news, however, since there are ways to address this problem.
I would like to share three simple ways that have proven effective in managing stress over the years and that I use in different coaching activities.
- Set and express your limits
- Organize your daily life
- Change your state of mind through: deep breathing + gratitude
1. Set and Express Your Limits
(Don’t assume that others will determine them for you!)
Failure to respect our limits can lead to long-term frustrations that are toxic to ourselves and our relationships. Over time, it can even become difficult to discern one’s own needs from those of others. I meet many people in my office who tell me that the most important thing in their lives is their family. But unfortunately, I find instead that in their daily reality, they are no longer able to appreciate these precious moments. They have completely lost control… Fortunately, everything can change when you are conscious and ready to make an effort.
- Make a list of what really matters to you: your needs, your values, your priorities. This will allow you to establish your benchmarks, which you can refer to before agreeing or not agreeing to a request.
- Define the situations that are risky for you, and determine the possible benefits of expressing them and the consequences of not expressing them.
- Distinguish between your work performance and your value as an individual.
- Don’t make hasty commitments.
- Accept that sometimes you may displease, learn to say NO and to negotiate. (Believe me, it can be learned!)
2. Organize Your Daily Life
I see that people are running out of time even though they are getting more and more things done. We have learned so well to deal with the unexpected that our daily life is now disorganized. This, in turn, often leads us to push our limits, resulting in overload, fatigue, forgetfulness and a feeling of lack of time. The feeling of having been overloaded all day and having to postpone important tasks creates a long-term sense of frustration. In order to regain a sense of satisfaction with the work accomplished, I recommend having a list of daily intentions that will allow you to achieve your short, medium and long-term goals. Daily intentions are goals that we seek to achieve today, this week or this year.
This skill is acquired through practice and is perfected through trial and error. Remember that the goal is not to be a slave to your intentions, but rather for your intentions to guide you and allow you to feel a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.
- Set aside time in your agenda to plan your intentions: you should have a long-term vision (the coming year) as well as a short-term one (the next two weeks).
- Make a list of daily intentions and ensure that it is realistic, taking into account unforeseen events and leaving room to jot down your ideas.
- Review this list during the day to make any necessary changes.
- Avoid having an “open-door” policy; opt for scheduled meetings more often.
- Avoid constant interruptions during the day.
- Make sure that you complete one task before beginning another.
3. Change Your State of Mind
Our state of mind has a major impact on how we deal with stress. In fact, I like to say that we need to have a protective barrier against stress (like Teflon!) to protect us from its harmful effects. Here are two habits that will have a considerable impact on your state of mind.
Over time, we have unlearned how to breathe! I have noted that most people have very shallow breathing, meaning that minimal air is being drawn into their lungs. Yet, when we were children our breathing reflex was perfectly adapted to our body’s needs: we breathed deeply (which is known as abdominal breathing). Unconsciously, we have unlearned how to breathe properly. We have adapted to our new reality, which puts us in a constant state of alert. However, we need a lot of oxygen to live fully and change our physical state. Our ability to breathe is proportional to our ability to connect with ourselves. The better we breathe, the better we can feel and sense what we are experiencing, what is around us. The less we breathe correctly, the less we are in touch with our senses. Deep breathing clearly remains an excellent way to manage stress effectively. The way you breathe also affects your nervous system. Chest breathing causes your brain to produce shorter and weaker brain waves. Conversely, abdominal breathing allows your brain to create longer brain waves. These longer or shorter brain waves are the same as the ones your brain generates when you feel calm.
- Helps manage your emotions
- Strengthens your immune system
- Improves concentration
- Improves sleep
- Promotes digestion
- Increases your vitality
- 3 times a day
- 6 breaths/minute
- 5 Inhale through your nose for five seconds, pushing your abdomen out, and exhale through your mouth for five seconds, bringing your abdomen in. Putting your hand on your stomach will help you.
Initially, this exercise may create a dizzying effect due to a sudden increase in oxygen in the blood, so it is recommended to start gradually. Also, some people may experience a feeling of contraction; this may be a sign that certain emotions are returning. Slowly, you will learn to make room for them.
Some smartphone applications can help you get started: RespiRelax, Sinusoid Ball, Zenfie, etc.
Gratitude is a simple and effective way to open up to feelings of satisfaction and to significantly lower our stress level. A study conducted by Dr. Robert Emmons and Michael E. McCullough showed that practising gratitude has major impacts. In addition to lowering stress levels, it also contributes to better sleep quality, greater determination, improved performance and a lower risk of depression. According to Dr. Emmons, practicing gratitude diverts attention away from the self, directing it more towards others and what they offer us. It allows us to broaden our perspective, change the way we see things and restore balance of events.
Gratitude is based on the ability to be “vulnerable,” that is, to be willing to be helped and grateful for that support. It can also have an impact on self-confidence and therefore help us cope with stressful situations.
Coach’s Tips – For daily practice
In a notebook (which you can call your gratitude journal):
- Think of a situation, a time or a conversation that made you feel good and write it down in your journal. (If you don’t like to write, you can do this exercise in your head.)
- Share that moment or situation with the people involved, either verbally or in writing.
- An equally interesting exercise can be done with your children during dinner, or with colleagues at the beginning of a meeting, where each person shares something they are grateful for that day.
My many years of experience have led me to believe in the theory of small steps, which allows us to make slow but steady progress. We should not see these new behaviours as a performance and become demanding on ourselves. Instead, we should try to incorporate small changes into our daily lives and to make space for them so that we have room to breathe. These simple little habits will allow you to relieve your daily stress. To make this information even more useful, I suggest that you immediately determine something that you want to do, write it down on a piece of paper in large letters and make sure that you can see it every day as a reminder to take action. It will already be a small step in the right direction.
EMMONS, Robert. Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier Paperback – November 6, 2008
EMMONS, Robert A.; MCCULLOUGH, Michael E., Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.
EMMONS, Robert. Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity