Have you ever been promised a stress-free life?
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To be blunt, a life without stress is a life without a heartbeat. You would be dead.
Even good things cause ‘stress’. Getting married, starting a new job, planning a holiday…there are some elements of stress involved in these fun/positive activities.
We need to remember that ‘stress’ is what we make it.
I like to encourage Mums to be ‘stress smart’.
In my work, I teach women how to use the positive power of stress. Using the latest research in mindset science, we can shift our thinking so that stress doesn’t have a negative impact on your life.
When people find out more about me, they always offer me their sympathy or pity.
“Oh it must be so hard to have SO many kids” (again, no, we have 5. SO many might be like 12 or something double-digit.)
“What? You are studying as well? Are you crazy?” (No, my studies are part of a well-thought out plan to enhance a career I have already carefully crafted)
“You have your own business? That must be so hard…”
And so it goes on.
Please don’t ever feel sorry for me. Or express concerns that I have too much on my plate.
I thrive living like this. I use the positive power of stress and can honestly say, I love all the different activities and roles in my life. Yes, sometimes when things don’t go according to plan (and isn’t that par the course for anyone who is actively engaging in life?) life feels more of a challenge than a joy but I use that contrast to foster gratitude. How much more enjoyable is a cup of tea in peace and quiet after a hectic couple of hours of racing around, cajoling cranky children and dealing with sibling warfare? By having contrast between ease and challenge, I can find the positives in both experiences. Add to that findings from neuroscience that reveal a moderate amount of stress is good for brain function.
But, like physical exercise, you need to make sure you break up periods of stress with periods of rest and respite – again, the contrast idea. Researchers liken it to interval training: stress works best when it is experienced in discrete intervals followed by periods of rest and opportunity for restoration. If you want to harness the power of stress to improve your performance and productivity the following things are useful to know:
- Stress might be the nudge you need to change things. If you are constantly feeling stressed but can’t flick the ‘off’ switch when you move on to another activity or part of your day, maybe there is something that needs to change in your life.
- How you frame stress is important. Whether you think of it as a negative or positive force impacts how you experience it. Some exciting, high-stake activities result in the experience of ‘stress’ because we are invested and care about the outcome. Thinking about stress in a more positive way (as a motivating force, for example) results in more positive outcomes than thinking of it negatively (unwelcomed, distressing etc).
- Believing you can handle stress makes a difference. Research shows that you don’t need to know HOW you will handle the stressful situation so long as you know you CAN handle it. The self-belief that you have the resources required to handle any challenge will determine how positive or negative the experience of stress will be.
The key message from the literature around harnessing the positive power of stress is centred on making sure you have some periods of ‘non-stress’ throughout the day – back to the idea of interval training. Even the top athletes don’t spend every waking minute in physical training.
When you are juggling family, work, study, housework, cooking, shopping and all the other millions of tasks each day, you need to be realistic about what those times of respite will look like. There is no point aiming for a half-an-hour meditation session if trying to arrange a free 30 minutes in your day is going to cause you more stress than any benefit you might get from doing the mediation. I recommend aiming for what I call ‘peaceful power-moments’.
What are the ingredients for a peaceful power moment?
- It needs to be quick. Think under 5 minutes.
- You should be able to do it anywhere. No specialised equipment needed.
- It doesn’t require the input or co-operation of anyone else (think something you can do even in middle of a toddler tantrum).
- It engages one of the 5 senses (depending on the situation at the time: for example, eating something delicious during your power-moment isn’t going to work if you don’t have a spare hand because you are holding a baby or stuck in the middle of a tense work meeting).
- You chose the activity because you enjoy it – not because it is what you are “supposed to do” to relax. Some people might find a burst of sprint running brings them a sense of peace while another person I know runs cool water over their hands and concentrates on the sensation. Everyone’s version of what brings peace will be different.
Have fun working out what a peaceful power moment looks like for you.
Learn how to harness the positive power of stress and think carefully before automatically saying ‘I’m so stressed’.