How can you cope with stress productively? Here’s a five-step process from Nicole Lipkin to help you transform how you deal with stress.
After a weeklong conference in Chicago, John and Peter, both senior executives in the financial services industry, meet in the lounge at O’Hare Airport. As they prepare to go to the boarding area, they hear an announcement that their flight to Los Angeles will not depart for another two hours. John drops his briefcase, kicks his carry-on bag, and utters
profanity that turns every head in the room. Pete lets out a long sigh, dials his wife to explain his delay, and gathers his briefcase and suitcase. Then he heads to the airport restaurant for a leisurely meal and a careful review of the notes he took at the conference.
Why does John lose his cool while Peter remains calm and collected? Both face the same irritating situation. The answer, of course, resides in their heads. Let’s take a peek at how they cope with stress.
1. Identify the activating event: John and Peter’s plane is delayed.
2. Determine the core belief or ingrained thought process: John believes that these types of inconveniences always happen to him and he takes it as a grave personal insult. Peter believes this sort of inconvenience comes with the job and views it as an opportunity to do something productive.
3. List the behavioral consequences. John feels enormous stress and displays his anger with physical and verbal abuse. As a result, he will not accomplish anything productive during the two-hour delay; by contrast, he may stew and feel restless the entire time. If you ever react to a stressful situation the way John did, you should move on to the next step.
4. Dispute the belief. If a given belief causes you a lot of grief, you should try disputing it the way John did.
Questions to uncover why you aren’t coping well with stress
- What is my problematic belief? John believes: Bad stuff and inconveniences always happen to me.
- What evidence supports my belief? The evidence is that the plane delay is an inconvenience to me.
- What is a better explanation for what happened? The inconvenience is not happening to me, it is happening to everyone on this flight.
- What are the consequences of this belief? Anger and stress have sent me into a tailspin.
- What would happen if I changed my belief right now? Permanently? I could enjoy a nice dinner and catch up on some work and calls at the airport.
- What are my new core beliefs? I can manage inconvenience better.
If you conclude that you would gain some real benefits if you changed your belief, you can go to the final step in this process.
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Imagine more effective ways to cope with stress
Step 5 involves coming up with better ways to deal with stress. Control what you can. Since you cannot change many aspects of stressful situations, focus on what you can change. For example, John could brainstorm and then act on more productive ways to use the two-hour delay.
Go away. Try removing yourself from a stressful situation by taking a walk, leaving a room, or just doing something else. A temporary break can refresh your mind and help you gain a more positive perspective.
Breathe.Breathe with your diaphragm. Use your belly to pull in a deep breath. Hold it for ten seconds, then let it out slowly. Repeat at least five times. Taking a few deep breaths won’t abolish the stress, but it will counteract some of the adverse physiological effects of stress and buy you a moment to reset your thoughts.
Hydrate. Drink plenty of water. Most of us live in a regular state of mild dehydration. Stressful situations can further dehydrate you, and dehydration contributes to a bad mood. Stopping to sip water not only increases your mood in the moment, it may also distract you from the stressor, albeit momentarily. That brief distraction might buy you just enough time to gain some perspective on the situation,
Once you move yourself to a place where you do not feel so all consumed by your emotions and can think a little more clearly, reframe that negative core belief into a more positive one that won’t send you flying off your rocker in the future.
If you have disputed the negative core belief and accept the fact that it causes you problems, you will automatically find yourself coping more effectively. In John’s case, he recognizes that his negative core belief that “inconveniences
and bad things always happen to me” has created a lot of physiological, psychological, and reputation problems for him. With this in mind, he can reframe his core belief. In addition, John can use this specific “freak-out” to remind himself that such behaviors do not work for him when he encounters a stressful inconvenience.
Adapted with permission from What Keeps Leaders Up at Night by Nicole Lipkin (Amacom Books).
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