Chris chats about stress awareness.
Stress is essentially how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. Just saying ‘stress awareness’ can automatically make you edgy. Words have power.
There’s a side of our brain that’s constantly looking for ways to help us survive and it’s great that it can identify potential threats. However, where it becomes a bad fit is when we view stress as the enemy. Stress is not the enemy; it’s how we respond to it that is.
There’s a substantial difference between how we react and how we respond to stress. Our reactions are our emotions kicking in, which can be powerful and overwhelming.
For example, you may think, ‘I know I’m going to have a busy week next week’ and then become stressed about it. You can hear it. You can feel it. You can sense it. Whereas when we respond rather than react, we pause and allow the pragmatic, thoughtful part of our brain to kick in and ask ourselves ‘Why am I thinking about the future? What can I do to control and manage it?’
When we believe we’re about to be overwhelmed, which often happens in partnership with stress, it’s when we’re thinking about the future. You can only experience the future in your mind. The future is just a projected reality. It’s a thought of what you think it might look like. But we’ve got control over it, even though we believe it’s controlling us. The way to overcome this is to understand what your triggers are. Does it have a different impact if the triggers come from a parent, a line manager, or a friend? Do you see it through a different lens?
The second part, once we’ve recognised the triggers, is to identify how they influence the story… the rhetoric on the inside of our brains; what’s happening? Who are the players? What’s the tone of the language that you self-apply? And then, be kind to yourself, and alleviate these triggers. That’s when we can start to settle our emotions.
Stress can be a force for good. I believe stress can be moments of learning if we’re willing to listen. There’s a significant difference between listening to respond and listening to understand. We’ve all been in those positions before where someone’s talking. We’re desperate to jump in too soon. I’m terrible at it, but I’m working hard at not doing it. I just become excited. However, it can come across as rude and I miss the whole point of what the person’s turned up to say. It’s the same when we’re stressed. If we’re not careful, we’re just constantly reacting to things. We’ve missed the whole opportunity to learn from what’s come our way.
This means we can listen and learn from our negative thoughts. Often our negative thoughts and our stresses are just pointing out there’s something missing. Listen to what’s missing, what’s the gap? That’s the next challenge. This gives us an idea of how we can develop our character.
I used to chat with young people at primary schools, secondary schools, pupil referral units and young offenders’ institutes week in, week out. This was considerably different to the talks I gave to business audiences. When I started talking to the business audiences, I was a bag of nerves. I was anxious and stressed beforehand. I was contemplating phoning them to say I was ill; I was throwing in the towel. I was asking myself on the drive to the talk, ‘Why am I doing this up? Why am I putting myself through this?’ I was causing myself actual physical pain. But when I reached the end of the talk, I couldn’t wait for the next one.
This would happen week after week. I’d speak to young people fluently, expertly and with passion, whereas, when it came to a business audience, I was stressed they’d find me out and someone would ask me a question I didn’t know the answer to.
When I just paused and started to respond rather than react, I realised it was the same skill. I was delivering the same story. The only thing that changed was there were just mums and dads in this audience. That’s all it was. That change in the rhetoric inside my brain changed everything. Now I’m excited about the talks rather than stressed and worried.
Effectively I’d fixed the gap, I’d changed the story. When we change the story, we change how we feel about something. When we change how we feel about something, we change how we act.
A tip for managing stress is spending time in silence every single day. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we’re often stimulated by the outside world. What we need to do is internally check-in. Spend time meditating. I’m a massive fan of yoga, as the movement and stretching frees up your body, allowing your brain to meditate and contemplate in silence how to make the most of the opportunities that you have in life. When I step off the yoga mat, I feel different, and consequently, I act differently.
When I’m informed by others that they haven’t got time for yoga or meditating, I suggest that it’s not about finding time, it’s about creating time. It’s not about what happens in the silence on the yoga mat. It’s what you bring back afterwards to help you manage stressful situations.
I’m not saying that suddenly you’ll find unicorns and rainbows popping up everywhere as you’re walking around! Instead, it’s just that you’ve checked in with yourself enough to know that you’re OK, and everything’s OK.
I believe deep down inside we’re spiritual beings, having a human experience. The more I stretch and do yoga, then the more I meditate and feel that connection. In turn, I feel less fear and stress. I don’t have to control things as much. That’s not because I’ve become wiser, more experienced, or older. It’s because of the time I spent in silence on the mat.
How do you manage stress?