Holy sh#t, I’m stressed to the eyeballs!

This is what a client said recently when I simply asked ‘how are you doing?’   He looked extremely up tight so I followed with a couple more questions:

‘Exactly what’s stressing you?’

I listened carefully as he listed about ten things – poor cash flow in the business, demanding clients, his teenage kids, the increase in traffic etc etc. So I asked him:

‘Are those things stressing everyone?’

After a short pause he relaxed a little and came back with:

‘No, I suppose that many of those things are just getting to me right now. My mind is making these things into a big deal and I’m getting all wound up about them. How do I stop my mind from making mountains out of mole hills?’

We are all guilty of this, we let our mind make small things into big things so that we can worry about them!  Here’s an example – someone cuts us up in traffic so we lean on the horn, flick them a rude sign and shout at them.  That’s often not the end of it either!  We carry the incident around with us all day, we think about it over and over again and tell everyone about it. We ask ourselves questions like ‘how can I teach that guy a lesson?’   ‘How can I stop it happening again?’   ‘Why do things like this always happen to me?’   Sometime we find ourselves still dwelling on the situation days or even weeks later.

Animals don’t react to stress like that.  When attacked by a lion, a herd of wildebeest will experience massive stress and run around in a total panic.  Eventually one of them gets caught (extremely stressful for that one!) but the rest of the herd immediately go back to what they were doing before – eating grass.

After explaining this to my client he angrily said:

‘So you’re saying all I need to do is let go of things and stop getting wound up about them. Exactly how am I supposed to do that?’

I explained that it’s not as simple or as easy as that.  I told him that his current mental habits were stopping him from using that strategy especially when under pressure.  By reacting blindly to an stressful stimulus in the past, we’ve programmed a mind habit.  In a stressful situation, by the time we consciously decide to ‘let things go’, it’s too late.  We’ve probably been stressing for a long period already and reaffirmed the bad habit several times!

The solution for us all is to put a gap between stimulus and response and the way to do that is to practice Mindfulness.  The meditation practices that are taught within mindfulness give our mind another option, another path to follow when things get stressful.  Having a choice is all we need to stop reacting blindly to anything that presses our stress button.  It won’t happen immediately but after a few weeks of mindfulness practice you’ll find yourself observing the stimulus and choosing your response.

The first time this happened to me it was quite funny.  Someone cut me up in traffic and, after avoiding an accident, I stopped the car and laughed out loud, not my normal reaction!  I wasn’t laughing at the other driver or his thoughtless behaviour, I was laughing at my own lack of reaction.  It felt as though I’d broken free from a lifetime habit, I felt I no longer had to react blindly to what was happening to me.   For the first time I felt that I had a choice in how I behaved to that stimulus.

This choice provides us with the opportunity to display self control.  It provide us with the chance to not put our foot in our mouth when we get upset.  It frees us from the compulsive desire to react that same old way to the same old stimuli.

Don’t think that this will instantly change your behaviour for ever, I don’t think there is anything that does that!  The very least that will happen is you will have the time to see the behavioural choices that are open to you.  We might not always choose the right path but at least we now have a choice and this means that sometimes we’ll choose correctly.

If you’d like to find out more than visit https://www.johnshack.com/mindfulness-2 or give me a call.  For a seminar in Auckland on 8th May click here.
I am now also offering my clients resilience coaching sessions.   Click here to find out more.


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