I’m going to finish up my thoughts on stress by talking about the philosophy I’ve evolved, some of the tricks I use, and places where I sometimes stumble. I don’t expect to ever be stress free entirely (and probably wouldn’t want to be), but I know that the better I am at managing stress the better I am at whatever I am doing.
It starts with me considering it a bad day if I get stressed at work and don’t resolve it in less than an hour. Maybe more than a bad day, it’s a personal loss, weak character! That’s the alpha geek in me, but I don’t like the idea of other people and events having that kind of control over me, so it’s up to me to control my behavior. I don’t always win, but I learn from it – it’s often the best part of the day for me driving home, figuring out how I let something got through my not insubstantial defenses!
So what causes me stress? The number one indirect cause is being tired due to whatever reason, it really does degrade my ability to look at situations calmly and think rather than react. In turn when I’m tired I mentally increase my vigilance (raise shields!) to compensate.
Beyond that, it’s often letting it become personal – working with someone that you will over promise and under deliver every time,or that continually forgets to tell you the one or two things that you need to know now,not the day before the project is due to complete. I work hard at relationships, but they aren’t all going to be solid because not everyone puts the same stock in them that I do. Said differently, many people are defensive by nature and just aren’t open to the kind of open dialog that comes with a good relationship. Part of this is that stress is cumulative, perhaps nowhere more so with people – history matters.
This seems like a good time to add that complaining often indicates stress. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t complain! If you reach such a Zen plane that nothing upsets you, you’re not going to push back, not going to push things up the chain that need awareness if not action. It’s hard to get this one right, I probably under-complain if anything, mostly because I have a good sense of what can be changed/fixed and what can’t. As I like to tell people, it does no good to shout at the rain. It will rain until it stops whether you complain or not.
So now to the tricks!
- First, I treat stress as a game. That means learning the game, getting good at it. I don’t know if that will work for everyone (or anyone), but it’s been a good way for me to look at it, informally keeping score of how I’m doing.
- I try to walk away if I’m feeling the “fight” response (I don’t seem geared for “flight”). That can be tuning out for a few minutes, going out for water, going to lunch early, not replying to an email.
- For all that there are times when I’ll be under stress. Right now I’m in the final weeks of delivering a long project and it’s been hard, lots of last minute requirements, problems, etc, etc. To compensate I’ve cut back on everything non-essential, including blogging, to give myself time to recharge for the next day. It keeps me leaning forward, able to reduce or eliminate a lot of small daily stressors so that I don’t go home feeling like I’m fighting a war.
- During the day walking helps, a music or reading break, a quiet lunch by myself sitting outside drinking iced tea! At home it’s trying hard not to turn into a TV zombie, though there are days when it’s just what you need, something to put the brain in idle for a while, though best done after a walk or some yard work or time with the kids to burn off some of the tension.
I’m better at managing stress than I used to be, not as good as I want to be, and that’s ok – not a source of stress!