While we're all liable to become stressed at times, most of the time we cope remarkably well. Life reliably throws up challenges periodically, large and small, but we have sufficiently good coping strategies to see us through. If people didn't have those, how would anyone manage to do high risk jobs like air traffic control, neurosurgery, bomb disposal, or fire-fighting?
The average person coming fresh to the task of dismantling a bomb would be petrified, and not only because they didn't know what to do. It follows that bomb disposal experts must have some pretty stunning coping strategies, ones which don't, presumably, involve focussing on the image of their body distributed in a thousand different pieces over a large area.
This week's tip is about how we cope with stressful situations, whether at work or in our personal lives, and how we can use our natural strengths to improve those coping skills even further.
A normally calm and capable acquaintance of mine was recently talking about the difficulty she was having coping with prolonged renovation works in her house. Just about everything had gone wrong, from the wrong tiles arriving for the bathroom, the new chandelier falling apart in the post, and the plumbers sawing through the mains water supply, resulting in a flood that Noah would have felt at home with. As well as that, a fine layer of dust coated every surface and she couldn't remember the last time she'd put down an article of clothing without looking like an artifice from Miss Havisham's bedroom the next time she put it on.
She was stressed. The upheaval; the dealing with people who'd made mistakes; the intrusion into her leisure time; the lack of sleep due to spending her nights reviewing the day's disasters and rehearsing difficult conversations with bolshie builders; the poor diet owing to the fact that the kitchen was half-built; the sheer length of time it was all taking. All these were eating away at her equilibrium.
It was hard to believe that this was the same woman who had master-minded the most far-reaching reorganisation her department had ever seen, and with consummate confidence and calm determination. There had been staff protests, arguments over accommodation, repeated delays, job losses, IT problems and in the midst of all that, the chief executive resigned and she had had to act up for three months. Was she tested? Yes. Was she tired by the end? Yes. Was she ready to be admitted to the nearest home for mad managers, like most people would be? No. 'So,' I asked her, 'How did you manage all this so calmly?'
She looked at me a little oddly at this point, as if to say 'What could managing all this at work possibly have to do with the mayhem in my house?' Nevertheless she told me how she'd coped. She said she'd had some experience of this kind of reorganisation before, she was really enthusiastic about the changes, and because she'd originally worked in Human Resources, she knew all about staffing issues. When she started to feel overwhelmed by obstacles, she told herself that she may not be able to see the end point now, but it would emerge in its own good time. When she worried she was out of her depth, she told herself that she was not the first person to manage this kind of change and it seemed unlikely she was the worst. When people were upset or angry, she understood why and didn't take it personally. On and on she went. By the time she got to the end of her list of her fabulous coping strategies, even she was beginning to wonder why a few troublesome builders had brought her so low.
Most of us have similarly uneven coping abilities in different situations. Interestingly we usually don't see it because we don't think twice about coping when we actually are coping. It's only when we're not that we take notice.
Here are some of the strategies that people employ:
� Self-talk: 'It will work out fine in the end'; 'I always get stressed at this point but I always manage to sort things out'; 'If anyone can do this, I can.'
� Identifying resources (people, advice, information,support)
� Taking time to think
� Taking time out to do nothing
� Allowing for the idea that solutions will 'emerge',rather than pushing for them
� Doing what you can right now and not worrying about the rest
� Making an extra effort
� Enjoying the challenge instead of being frightened by it
1. Think about something that causes you stress, or is causing you stress at the moment. How do you feel about it? What exactly causes the stress? What are the thoughts that go through your head? What are you doing about it?
2. Think of something you love doing. It might be projects or tasks at work, or it might be painting and decorating, knitting, football, giving dinner parties, anything at all.
3. What do you bring to this activity in terms of your experience, skills, natural ability, attitude, personal qualities?
4. When you come up against problems and obstacles in this activity, how do you feel? What thoughts go through your head? What do you do?
How might you apply these qualities and coping strategies to your current situation?
Have a stress-free week....