International Stress Awareness Week - Day 3:
Let it all out!

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” Kurt Vonnegut
When stressed in the moment:

Don’t dwell on your emotions and stew in your own juices: act on them constructively, if you can, according to the circumstances you are in.

What’s happening? Your emotions arise much more quickly than your conscious thoughts, and so it makes no sense in trying to wrestle with them in the hope that you will overcome them and not succomb to feelings you’d prefer not to have.

We all like to feel in control and to believe that we can manage ourselves. The cultures in which we grow up, live and work determine which emotions we should and should not display and how and when. That doesn’t stop us from experiencing them, of course.

Emotions prompt us to take action in order to stay alive – either by overcoming a threat, or by seizing an opportunity. We are subsequently motivated to avoid or to approach a situation in the expectation of achieving a particular outcome. In some circumstances, it might not be possible to take action to avoid pain or achieve pleasure or reward; or it might be deemed socially inappropriate to do so. Sometimes we have to bite our own tongue instead of being tempted to bite someone else!

If emotions reinforce the drive to take action, they also play a part in preparing the body to move. Various changes happen in the body in readiness for a fight, flight or freeze response: adrenaline increases heartrate, cortisol increases blood pressure, breathing becomes more rapid and shallow, we become more vigilant and we focus our attention narrowly. Blood sugar and fatty acids increase, digestion decreases, sometimes creating a feeling of butterflies in the stomach. These responses can occur both in the presence of a real challenge – such as an argument or conflict with another person – or as a result of our own imagination – for instance, after reading an email from someone you already don’t get on with!

While the emotions themselves might subside and die down after minutes, the physiological changes can last much longer. Indeed, high blood pressure and raised blood sugar levels are symptoms of chronic stress and bad for our health. We need to take action to deal with the consequences of emotional thinking and to avoid storing up bad news for ourselves in the long run. Moreover, we want to avoid carrying bad emotions over into our next encounters – especially if it upsets our home life.

A key message in Day 2 (Be Aware!) was to accept how you react in the face of challenge. Start with identifying your BASIC ID: what Behaviours, Sensations and Emotions (Affect) do you typically experience?

There are 5 factors that can influence how we experience psychological stress and pressure in the workplace. One of them is having an outlet for our frustration. Emotions need to be acknowledged and handled in a constructive and healthy way – and that means in a timely fashion. Act today and don’t leave it until tomorrow.

In the Rub section is a list of the 5 outlets for frustration that you can employ.

For further reading on this subject, I highly recommend the bestseller Why zebras don’t get ulcers by Professor Robert M.Sapolsky. It’s the one book all about stress that had my stomach aching – from laughing so much!

How to make the most of this technique? The 5 psychological factors that influence our experience of stress are as follows:

  • Outlet for frustration: can you get the emotions off your chest in a safe and socially-appropriate way?
  • Social support: is there someone you can talk to?
  • Control: what can you do about the situation?
  • Predictability: do you know when the situation is likely to happen?
  • Change: do you believe things will change for the better or for the worse?

 

In this edition of the newsletter, we are concerning ourselves only with the outlets for frustration. You could call the outlets listed below ‘coping mechanisms’, because in effect that is exactly what they are.

In the same way that you should not beat yourself up for having emotions in the first place, also don’t be hard on yourself for handling stress in the way you do, provided that it is constructive and not destructive (clearly smashing the joint up comes with consequences!). Ask yourself how you could manage your outlet better – for you and anyone else concerned.

Outlets for Frustration:

  • Physical: exercise – go for a brisk walk, run, cycle or swim; walk up a few flights of stairs; compete in sport; kick the cat (not advisable!).
  • Space: distance yourself from the source of the stress. Take a break from your desk; get some fresh air; have a change of scene.
  • Social: find a friend and have a rant, whinge or cry (or all three!). Make sure they’ll be likely to listen to you.
  • Context: displace your emotions into a game or some other activity in which the ‘rules of the game’ allow you to let off steam.
  • Verbal: write down what you’re experiencing in the here-and-now, then park it and return to read it later on when things are calmer (this is an essential skill for replying to those blood-boiling emails you might occasionally receive!).

 

In summary, when it comes to managing your stress reaction, in the words of the cartoon character Dick Dastardly, “Muttley, do something!“.

Coming up in Day 4: Weigh it up!

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