In my last few columns I’ve been discussing Reorganize, the fifth level of defense against stress in my Five R’s of Coping (Rethink, Reduce, Relax, Release, Reorganize) Model©. As I discussed, Reorganize is a lifestyle-based based approach to conquering your stress that makes you more hardy and stress-resistant.
In my last column I discussed reorganizing your intellectual well-being. In this column I’ll talk about how to reorganize your emotional well-being and continue your quest to become more stress-resistant by building a healthier lifestyle.
In an earlier column I described emotions as “impulses to act.” They force you to stop, assess any potential threat, and then act, all within a split second. Some of the stronger emotions like fear and anger are very threatening and can trigger the fight or flight response all by themselves. It is normal for your emotions to ebb and flow over the course of a day. It will actually create stress if your goal for emotional health is 24/7 happiness or trying to maintain any single emotional state for the entire day.
Your emotional wellbeing revolves around your ability to manage your emotions. You’ll notice I didn’t mention understand or describe why you feel the way you do. As we’ve already discussed in previous columns, instead of analyzing and trying to understand why you think and feel what you do, it is more productive and stress-reducing to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, accept them, and co-exist with them while re-directing your focus away from yourself and onto engaging in purposeful work
The following exercise, A Six Step Action Plan for Coexisting With Your Feelings, is taken from my Rethink Course and is designed to teach you a simple technique for recognizing, accepting, and coexisting with troubling thoughts and painful emotions. It incorporates principles and practices from ACT and Morita therapy and will help you become aware of your troubling thoughts and painful emotions and be able to co-exist with them.
1. Describe an emotional response to a stressful situation you experienced today or at any point during the previous week.
2. Don’t question the emotional response or try to figure out why you felt what you did. Merely note what you felt.
3. Use the following six steps to help you understand and manage the emotional response:
Step 1. Identify the feeling(s) – pay close attention to exactly how the anxiety feels and make note of it in the following non-judgmental manner:
“Isn’t this interesting, I am getting anxious again. I notice that whenever I have to give a presentation, I feel this way. My neck muscles start to tighten, my hands get clammy, and I start to breathe more rapidly and in a shallow fashion.”
Step 2. Accept the feeling(s)- tell yourself:
“I am definitely feeling anxious. I’d rather not feel this way, but I guess it is normal to feel like this when I have to do stand up in front of a work group and give a presentation.”
Step 3. Tell yourself that you can co-exist with these feelings and still be productive – here is an example:
“I really envy people who find it easy to give presentations. It is hard for me to stand in front of a group feeling the way I do. I’ll have to prepare harder and just accept the discomfort.”
Step 4. Redirect your focus – rather than focus on your emotions, redirect your focus to behaviors related to the stressful situation that you can change. For instance, in this example you can make sure that you know your subject inside and out. You can use practice rehearsal in front of a mirror or a couple of friends to get ready. Check your audiovisual aids and other props to take the focus off of you and onto the technology. Make sure you have back-up materials just in case your primary ones fail.
Step 5. Get physical – if the activities you engage in when completing Step 5 do not include physical activity, do something physical during this step. If you are home, be sure to get in some vigorous physical activity. If you are at work, take a break and walk a few flights of stairs. If your worksite has a fitness facility, get in a workout.
Step 6. Reinforce your ability to co-exist – remind yourself that you can give a productive presentation despite being anxious. Your feelings do not have to control your behavior.
In time, becoming more mindful of your troubling feelings and practicing co-existing with them will become part of your daily routine. This will probably not eliminate the troubling feelings but will reinforce your ability to be productive despite them and will help you become more mentally tough.
In my next column we’ll talk about how to Reorganize your Micro-Environment. In the meantime remember to Stress Less and Live More.
Dr. Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in New Jersey. For over 25 years he has devoted himself to helping people just like you stress less and live more. www.drrichblonna.com.