For me it goes something like this:
I have back-to-back-to-back meetings. No time for lunch. Plus I have after-work commitments. I’m full-throttle Linda from the moment I wake up until my head hits the pillow at night. Worse yet, I have this schedule for several consecutive days.
How do I feel when this happens? Claustrophobic. I have no space; no time to gather my thoughts. Air! I need air!
Obviously, a packed schedule is one of my stress triggers.
But for my friend, Maggie, this type of schedule inspires her. She gets a lot done on those busy days and her stress monster isn’t in the least bit annoyed.
One person’s stress trigger is another’s motivation.
What about you? What triggers your stress response at work? Here’s a not-even-close-to-comprehensive list:
- 100s of emails
- Office politics
- A long to-do list
- Answering to more than one master boss
The good news is that you get to own your stress triggers. So what if your biggest stress is that the coffee in your cafeteria tastes like pond scum? I may enjoy pond scum by the bucket but that doesn’t diminish the fact that you hate it. There is no shame in having a certain stress trigger, no matter how silly or serious you think it is.
Once you have an idea of your most common triggers, it’s vital to tap into what your brain says when you skip down the merry path of stress.
Because, once a stress event occurs, our (not-so-helpful) brain adds its own commentary. Note how my brain thinks I’m lacking oxygen. This puts me into a near-panic state. The stress trigger (busy schedule) brings my chatty brain (also known as the monkey mind) to life. Then the ‘fun’ really begins.
For the person who hates the coffee, her mind might be telling her that she can’t possibly perform well if she isn’t properly caffeinated, which means she’s going to massively fail. So the entire day is one long downhill progression.
Here is my scientific analysis of how stress works:
Stress trigger >>>> Monkey mind >>>> Burst into flames
For a long time I wasn’t aware of my stress triggers. (Even though my shoulders were up around my ears and my left foot did a constant tap-tap-tap as I sat in one meeting after another.) All I knew was that I was exhausted at the end of the day.
I thought this was normal.
But your body will eventually give you away. You get sick a lot. You’re tired all the time. Something hurts (like your back or shoulders). That’s a sign that your body knows something that the chatty monkey brain is trying to ignore.
However, you are not doomed to spend your days reacting to your stress triggers. First you need to be aware of them. So here’s a way to start:
1) Pick a day to observe yourself. Start the moment you open your eyes. What are you finding stressful? Jot those moments down.
2) Once you identify those stressful situations, focus on what your brain is telling you. Is it regaling you with tales of gloom and doom? Is tragedy at hand? Will the world end because you’re late to that meeting/child’s event/interpretative dance class? Write that down too.
At the end of the day review what you wrote. By reading this, are you more stressed? Less stressed? Amused? Do you see any trends? We can’t fix what we don’t know. Keeping a stress journal is an important first step.
Since humor is one of my stress busting tools, I find that my monkey mind is a constant source of entertainment AFTER THE FACT. When I’m in the throes of a stressful situation there is nothing funny in my world. But once that situation passes I am amused beyond belief.
In fact I think my monkey mind should have its own standup act. Consider the great comedians of our time: Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Linda’s monkey brain.
My book, THE WORKING WOMAN’S SANITY HANDBOOK, takes you deeper into techniques that will identify your stress triggers, and then provide solutions so you can take control. You may not be able to change that busy day (or the pond scum coffee), but there are things you can do bring your stress level down…and perhaps entertain yourself.
The presale offer is underway. Buy the book and workbook for $29 (a $20 savings) by clicking HERE.
What are your stress triggers? What stories does your monkey mind tell you? Please share in the COMMENTS section. We feel less isolated when we know others are also on this journey.