Stress is a huge problem today for the corporate world and so many theories have been put forward to manage stress. The problem with workplace stress is that it’s not all about the workplace! Our personal and professional lives are intricately intertwined and we carry over the excess emotional baggage from our personal lives to our professional lives and vice-versa.
Stress is a lifestyle issue and the root causes are certain behavioural patterns which contribute to our perception of certain situations as stressful. A simple shift of perspective and our internal representation of an event can drastically alter how we feel about a particular situation. Stress elimination has to take the whole person into account. We cannot just aim to repair stress issues at the workplace and ignore what the person might be going through their personal lives. The underlying behaviour patterns are the same.
The first step in countering stress is accepting complete and full responsibility. As long as we will continue to place the reasons of stress outside of ourselves, we will have no power to alter this behaviour. When we begin to internalize this behaviour pattern and come to accept that we are ‘choosing’ to process things in a certain way, that serves as the first step to change by creating internal awareness.
This first step will stop us from shifting the blame outside of ourselves to the people in our lives, to our environment, our financial / social status, our jobs and colleagues, the government and even the traffic. This acceptance should include every dimension of our current reality.
This powerful beginning creates self-awareness which is the first step of any behavioural change. As we embrace the fact that we can change the way we feel internally without asking any element of our external reality to be different, we begin to open ourselves to new choices that are available to us.
Stage two is all about exercising the right internal choices. Every situation, regardless of how grave it is, presents us with a choice. The choice of how to process any external event and how to respond to it. And this choice is always ours to make. We cannot control the different challenges that life throws at us but what we do control is how we process and respond to them. And therein, at that very moment, lies the opportunity to make that shift in our behaviour that will eliminate the root cause of stress and other negative emotions.
Stress is something that occurs due to thoughts and thoughts alone have the power to eliminate stress and replace it with inner peace, balance, patience and gratitude.
As a leader, if a situation presents panic to you, what would you respond with? Well, your old patterns may tempt you to choose panic. Your new awareness, may present you with the opportunity to just take a quick moment to evaluate the whole situation carefully and then choose patience, assertiveness, creativity, delegation, faith and execution. This knowing, that you have within you, the power to make the right choices, regardless of the situation will certainly help you calm the people around you as well.
What makes stress worse is our expectation that our external trigger factors should change to make us feel better and more relaxed. That rarely happens. That expectation in itself is a major cause of stress, anger, anxiety and a host of other negative emotions.
We often attribute our stress to the behaviour of certain people in our lives. What we fail to realise is that these people are our biggest teachers. And in their behaviour towards us, they are continuously holding up a mirror in front of us, so that maybe, we realise that there is still a lot of work we need to do on ourselves.
If someone chooses to bring anger, resentment or bitterness to you, that’s their problem. You don’t have to be a part of it by joining in. You can, however, choose to be a part of the solution by responding differently. And when you make that choice, the choice to be a part of the solution, just your presence will help soothe and calm the most stressful situations.
The really wonderful part about making the correct choices is that deep sense of achievement that fills you up from within. Growth and contribution have often been outlined as one of the key human psychological needs. And as soon as you start exercising your right to choose what’s right for you, you become aware that you have become a far better person than before. This feeling of fulfilment will help you gain more momentum in this change process of eliminating unwanted stress.
The most challenging part of this change process, will be the execution. You may have practiced your old patterns for a long time now and they might have become your natural responses. It may take a while for results to show up and you may give yourself permission to fail occasionally. And with every sunrise, you will have a brand new opportunity.
A story from Zen Buddhism illustrates the power of choice beautifully. It is said that a man once decided that he wanted to try and get Lord Buddha angry. After all he was known for his inner peace and balance and this man wanted to try and upset that balanace. So he went to see Lord Buddha and tried everything that he could get him angry. None of his harsh words were having any impact on the Buddha.
Finally, when the man was tired and exhausted, Lord Buddha asked him a question – “If someone brings me a gift and I don’t accept that gift, whose gift does it become?”, with a serene and peaceful smile on his face. The man’s visible exhaustion and anger was the obvious answer to Lord Buddha’s question.
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
No situation or person holds the power to stress us without our permission. And while we are granting that permission to feel stressed, in that very instant, we also have the choice to select peace, humour, gratitude, faith and love.
The quality of our life is equal to the choices we make. So what will you choose?
Have a stress and anger free day ahead.