16 May 2018

Managing stress: Part 1: How to be mindful when you need it the most.

I’m sure you’ve heard of mindfulness & meditation and the associated benefits to your health, so you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I am a fan of both and think everyone should be practicing in some form.

But what happens when stress creeps in to our lives? We can find ourselves with a shorter fuse. Our minds racing as we lose sleep over worry. Our work suffers and so do our relationships. And what is stress? Did reading this last paragraph stir any uneasy feelings in your body and/or mind?

Well, then you may just be experiencing stress (you’ll see why the word experience is important soon). Follow this three-part series for tips to help you mindfully approach challenges in your life and crush stress.

Let me begin by sharing a story.

See there is this guy I know, he’s smart, reasonably funny, and according to some, not bad to look at.

Life has its ups and down, and this guy, like anyone had his share of downs. Bouncing back each time, maybe a little dusty but with a renewed optimism. During one of these downs, he experienced anxiety so bad that he almost felt like an inevitable fate of lifelong misery was written for him: “what had he done to deserve this?!” he thought. Learning mindfulness and meditation with the aid of a psychologist, proved to be his strongest ally and saw him shake the dust off yet again.

A couple of years later and many things had changed. A new city, new career and new avenue of study all came along and with them the usual challenges and rewards. Life was good! He knew how to mindfully handle anything that life through at him, or so he thought.

Earlier this year, things changed and suddenly. A toxic relationship ended (ultimately a blessing) but it meant he was starting out again by himself. He had no real contacts and a relatively new business to run.

After a couple of months of going strong, some cracks started to appear. Although business generally was going well, his workload was piling up with study and business and somehow it suddenly seemed overwhelming. What would normally have been mindful moments in the shower, driving to work, or simply while in bed, became moments filled with arbitrary worry. We’ll say arbitrary because the thoughts would often be repeating the same worry over again and a pattern of “what-ifs” started to emerge.

A slippery slope.

The unnecessary worry became problematic and a cycle of negativity developed. Worry about money, the inevitable failure of his business, and whether the direction he was headed was the right one at all looped around and around. Stress, it seemed was the “thème du jour”.

After a few weeks, I had a talk with this guy. I reminded him that stress is a state of mind. And like any other state of mind, you can choose how you experience it. Would he continue to be a “part” of the stress? Or merely watch it as it unfolds? Choosing rather to be an objective spectator instead of an eager participant? Psychologists know that stress can be problematic. What they also know is that by redefining your relationship with stress, you also redefine your role to that of spectator.

Seems simple!

Boy! What an eye opener, and what an intense conversation that turned out to be. Now things are on the up-and-up and he is back to riding the waves of life with a relative ease. Fortunately for this guy we know each other very well and he took my advice. But why did he decide to trust me?

Because the guy in the story was me.

Continue reading: Part 2 + Part 3 Toolkit

Stephen Hale-Worrall. Principal coach and founder of Strength Being.

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