More on Taming Your Stress Things

After the looseness of summer, for most of us, the return of more strict schedules can be a welcome return to structure, but is can also invite stress back to the forefront. I can sense the first vibrations of stress preening themselves hoping for some for attention. In this post I pick up from  my July 26 post, Taming Your Stress Things.

Stressful events that are too frequent, too long or too intense lead to distress.  Distress is what we commonly refer to as stress.

Just a reminder stress is not all bad, eustress; healthy stress allows us to perform well. Our stress response is not terrible in and of itself- it is superlative to have all that energy unleashed if you are a water buffalo who needs to get away quick from a crocodile. What likely brought you here is distress, when stress becomes harmful: chronic, too much or occurs to often.  That is when the stress response become more of a threat than the stressor itself- there is more than ample research that points to the dangers of a chronic stress response, increased chances of cardiovascular damage and disease, decreased immunity, memory trouble, emotional health suffers (irritability, anxiety, depression…), etc.

A complicating factor for people in the western world is that most of our stressors are not about immediate physical threats of being eaten by a predator, or more chronic challenges like famine or parasites (Oooo flashback to parasitology class  in Public Health Grad School- ick), where mobilizing the extra energy to take off like a rocket or finding the strength to walk miles and miles to shelter is essential to survival.

By in large people we live well and long enough and are clever enough to create all kinds of stressors in our head.  I hear you worrying about what to say on your date-job interview-at the meeting tomorrow… And we are gifted at extending our experience of stress- we don’t generally just run to safety and then placidly return to whatever it was we were dong before. We ruminate. We can turn on our stress response just by thinking about a stressor, future or past. We also live in a time where there are lots and lots of sustained pressures like paying the mortgage.

Here’s the good news folks, people are wired to for language with all its nuances and generative creative potential. We can harness that potential, along with the amazing plasticity of our brains to help mitigate our experience of stress.  We can articulate where our stressors are generated, what they do to us, assess what we can and will do about them. We not aiming at idealized life where it is perpetually stress free- we live in the real world. Rather you want to be able to keep dancing, stay on your toes when confronted with a stressful event so you come through the experiences as best and intact as possible. You want to thrive in spite of (dis)stress.

Thriving in spite of stress is a two-part process: appraising the situation and then taking action to soothe the savage beast.

Appraising the situation1 is a two part deliberate process. Primary appraisal, is when you decide is something is a threat to you or your interests. Secondary appraisal is when decide if there is any things you can do the change the situation to minimize bad outcomes and increase the possibility of positive outcomes. This is when you decide is something is a threat to you or your interests.

All too often we go to an extreme of either TOTAL DENIAL or absolute OVERT CATASTROPHIZING of the issue/stressor.

Total denial                            Middle ground                        Overt catastrophizing

Finding a middle ground goes a long way to averting an excessive stress reaction in mind and body. The middle ground is anchored in 3 things:

  1. Check in with yourself and your assumptions. Give yourself the mental space to put daily events into the larger perspective. Sometimes it is worth exploring the roots of assumptions and negative appraisals of what’s happen.
  2. Give yourself a break. Accepting stress and learning to live successfully with it is a process.
  3. Bag of Tricks. A personal set of techniques, tips and tools you used to successful Tame Your Stress Things.

In my upcoming September 18, 2010 Taming Your Stress Things workshop in Jackson, MS, I’ll help you find your middle ground give yourself a break and stuff your own bag of tricks so you can thrive in spite of (dis)stress.  More details about the workshop can be found here. Space is limited, so if you are in the Jackson, MS area, sign up now to reserve your spot.

1Claire Michaels Wheeler describes this two-part appraisal in greater detail in her handy book, 10 Simple Solutions to Stress.


The Importance of Space and Transformation

Over the past couple of months we have been settling into a new home and workspaces. As we unpack boxes, consider what to put the furniture and photos, what area might become a reading space, I am reminded how important and grounding it is to create welcoming and purposeful spaces. Regardless how great the volume of space with which you are working.  This is less about having a distinct room for everything in your life. Rather for me, it is a notion more about creating discrete, functional and beautiful spaces for you and your living. Remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder and how you live need not be right for anyone but you.

Just a week or so ago my office was finally repainted after my grousing and considering what colors to use. And now the entire sense of the space has transformed, with just robin’s egg and garden green paint, nothing more. The light is brighter. The wood of my desk is more warm to my eye. The slate floor (I was luck enough to have that come with the space) is a cool pond under the area rug. There is a quite generative sense for me as I walk into it.  I know I am doing better work in it. I am inspired to offer my best work to my clients and colleagues.  During some tense meetings felt a deeper sense of calm than just a week before when the walls were brown (A fine color but not for my working space). Why did I wait so many weeks to just get it done?

So the lesson reenforced for me is take the time to create welcoming and purposeful spaces, but don’t take too long thinking about it. The transformation happens in the doing. And it can be redone again in time.

Is there a space you are looking to transform? Or perhaps a piece of furniture that is calling for a fresh look?  Don’t follow my lead and wait too long- grab your ideas, put them into play and transform.

Here are a few places you might find inspiration and ideas…


Style Court


Pad Style

What you risk reveals what you value

What you risk reveals what you value.  ~Jeanette Winterson

To me is this an interesting almost counter intuitive statement. Normally we thinking about protecting what we value, so that is not harmed. But to risk it, that put’s an interesting twist on things. How much are you willing to say to the world, here is what is important to me, and here is what I am willing to try to increase it, to share it... I think this quote speaks to the important of our individual personal agency, values and what ground we are willing to stand. Do we have the courage of our convictions and to live those publicly?

Simple Checklist to Take Stock of Your Emotional Decision Making

I am still reflecting on the power of language of behavioral economics in illustrating how our emotions, perceptions and assumptions influence our decisions, and some times not for the better. Here is a quick non-scientific 5-point checklist for you to use to take stock of how something other than just the facts are influencing your decision-making.

Think of a reasonably important decision you made in the past 12 months. One about which you can be objective. Ready? Now check off the items you recognize in your decision-making. I was interested by I found when applying this to several decisions I made of the past year.

1. Anchoring: Making decisions on irrelevant information rather than evaluating the decision based on the big picture.

2. Confirmation bias: Looking for information that supports a decision you want to make rather than exploring the process and cons of a decision. We have all done this at least once in our lives.

3. Gambler’s Fallacy: Not understanding the laws of probability. It is the “this time it will be different” thinking. Just become a coin has land heads-up 20 times in a row that does not mean it will land tails-up on toss 21.

4. Herd Behavior: Constantly following the latest trends because everyone else is doing it.  As your Dad might have said to you “Would you jump off a cliff if everyone else is do it?” The right decision for someone else, or everyone else may not be the right or best one for you.

5. Hindsight bias: Thinking that an unexpected, unpredictable event was obvious, after the fact. This can lead to overconfidence, thinking you can always predict what will happen. You can’t, you won’t. Don’t put that sort of pressure on yourself; you are not omnipotent.

Make the best decisions you can with the information you have at hand, but make sure the information is relevant and real then roll with the outcome. If you have taken in the big picture, weighed your emotions with the relevant facts, you will have made the best decision you can, and more often than not, good things come from that sort of decision-making.

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes…

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.– Thich Nhat Hanh

Simple, almost banal, but profoundly true. So go ahead and smile. Your face will get a workout. Your “happy hormones” will be triggered. A cloudy will be a bit brighter and a bright day more brilliant.

3 Strategies to Discipline Emotions in Decision Making

Last week I was reading the insert that came with my retirement investment statement and found myself drawing parallels between the lead article on behavioral economics and how we use/misuse emotions when making decisions, financial or otherwise. The decisions you make about your relationships, your work, what to eat for dinner… are the deposits and withdrawals in your life’s “long tem investment plan.” You want to make the best decisions for the long and short-term.

I put a lot of stock in emotions and intuition as tools to guide decision-making. Heck in many ways they are the most precious assets I use in my own and my clients tell me I am the person they go to balance out their heart and head. Using emotions as the only tool can sway us to unhelpful extremes. Emotions are like a barometer they let us know what is blowing up, settling down and if there are peaceful tranquil days are ahead. You can’t will sunshine to follow you when there is a deluge happening, just because you want to believe is a sunny day.  Here are 3 strategies to balance your emotions with other information and ensure you are making good decisions for your “long term investment plan”.

Avoid information overload. When faced with making an important decision, it is easy to be over saturated by advice, suggestions and information from family, friends, and the 24 hours media available to us. Cautionary tales and conflicting information is abundant.  In particular many media network seems to fuel themselves on negative that play on your emotions. An abundance of information can be paralyzing. Step back, take account of the source of information, note any trends you are hearing and at some point you make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time.

Avoid “all or nothing” mentality. When times are volatile or changing rapidly it is easy to be seduced into an extreme position. At one pole, doing nothing- “What difference does it make.” At the other pole, frantically doing everything you can to try to control every- stop you can’t control everything. You are not omnipotent (and who wants that pressure anyway?). Neither is particularly rational approach. Take some deep breaths and them some small steps to weather the storm.

Apply the 24-hour rule. Impulse buys and decisions we have all made them without taking time to step back and consider the big picture. It is one thing to buy a new pair of pants (unless they are $5,000 pants and your annual income is $60,000); it is another to rush to sell the majority of your retirement investments. Tempted to make a rash decision about something big? Wait 24 hours, take in the big picture and then decide what to do.