The Number One Question to Ask Yourself When You're Stressed

We've been talking about stress recently. Here, you'll find the first Pep Talk in the series, all about leveraging your lifestyle to prevent stress from taking hold. Next, you'll find the Pep Talk all about what happens when your stress does cross that threshold, and you need some coping strategies NOW. Today we're wrapping up the series with one heavy question that can change your relationship to stress, and your life, forever.

Please note that I said change your relationship to stress, not abolish stress completely. Let's take a second to be absolutely clear: there is no magic pill, no magic thinking, and no 100% effective process. There's just awareness, strategy, and implementation. So far, we've talked about two types of strategies to implement when it comes to stress: proactive and reactive. Today we're going to talk about the reflective element: a fundamental question that will help bring awareness to how that stress is triggered and what you can do about it.

So here's that very simple and potentially life changing question: what is this stress signalling?

I want you to take a minute to think about that. Think about the most recent bout of stress you've experienced -- maybe you're in it now -- and walk yourself through the following questions:

  1. What was the trigger of the stress?

    • You'll find this by either examining what was immediately happening when the stress came up, or by examining the most prominent topic of mental chatter when the stress came up.

  2. Is that stress trigger (and the severity of my stress response) a reasonable trigger for me?

    • For example, if a significant deadline at work has you experiencing stress, that is likely a reasonable trigger. If sitting in front of ice cream flavours in the freezer aisle has you stressed, that's likely an unreasonable trigger.
    • If the stress trigger is unreasonable, see question 3.
    • If the stress trigger is reasonable, jump straight to point 4.
  3. [If the trigger is unreasonable] What is happening in my general life experience that is making me more susceptible to stress?

    • Stress that is triggered unreasonably can indicate that there are more significant triggers elsewhere that a person is not acknowledging. So, the stress is signalling denial around other important life events or experiences. The strategy is to ditch denial and uncover the true stress triggers. Once you've done that, jump to question 4!
    • Stress that is triggered unreasonably can also indicate that your life hygiene is under practiced and could use fortification. Just as a weak immune system has you more susceptible to colds, weak life hygiene has you more susceptible to stress. Examine the usual areas of physical, mental, and spiritual health to see if there are some areas of your life that you're neglecting. In this instance, stress is signalling neglect. The strategy is awareness, strategy, and implementation: become aware of the areas of your life that are neglected, strategize a way to give them attention, and then do it!
  4. [If the trigger is reasonable] Why is this trigger causing stress?

    • If it's time related, such as an overwhelm of deadlines or the feeling of being over-booked, your stress is signalling either time dysmorphia or weak scheduling hygiene. The strategy is, again, awareness, strategy, and implementation. Read about time-related strategies here and here
    • If it's fear related (and to be honest, most of your stress triggers will be either time related or fear related at their heart), your stress is signalling, well, fear. The strategy is to examine your relationship with fear, to become aware that fear is future thinking, to acknowledge that you cannot predict the future and that attempting to do so doesn't serve you, and to create a strategy to stay in the present moment instead of needlessly flinging yourself into a scary future!
    • If it's related to an unavoidable life circumstance, such as a job transition or a divorce or an illness, your stress is signalling a need for self care. The solution is to be aware of how stress acts on your body and your experience, then strategize and implement a way to minimize those effects. This won't ease your trigger, but it will allow you to show up for that life circumstance being the best that you can be.

Learning how to cope with stress is one thing, but learning how to use stress as a signal is another thing entirely. I encourage you to let your stress signal a need to ask yourself questions. Let it prompt you into an honest reflection of your current life experience, and in doing so you will have the awareness to make some major change in your life. And the upside? In doing so, you'll likely abolish that stress in the process -- no aromatherapy required -- and you'll change the way you see stress in the future. If you're able to look at stress as a tool, then it's less likely to become a major factor in your emotions, your actions, or your decision making. 

Remember that designing your best life all comes down to awareness, strategy, and implementation. So use stress as a signal to become more aware, and see how things change. If you're struggling to ask yourself the right questions, or if you can't seem to find the right strategy, or if your implementation would benefit from accountability, I want you to remember that hiring a Coach to help you is always one email away!

Kate MarlowComment