This is How You Can Use Stress to Your Advantage

Stress, Stress Management, Counseling, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach

Most people think of stress as a bad word.  And it kind of is.

No one likes feeling stressed, everyone wants to get rid of stress.  I get it.

But have you thought about the fact that you can actually turn the tables?

It’s possible.  I know it seems impossible, but I’m going to tell you exactly how.

If you catch stress in it’s early stages, it can be a really helpful arrow pointing to the fact that you need to employ some strategies to successfully get through the challenge causing stress.

The point is, we don’t want to eliminate stress all together because then you would be eliminating your body’s warning system that you need to call in extra support.

There are 3 steps for using stress to your advantage:

STEP 1: Know yourself.

You are most likely sending signals to yourself that you are overwhelmed before it actually consciously registers.

DO THIS: Quickly think back to a time in your life when you were stressed and what you tend to do (behaviors), think or feel during those times.  Remember, thoughts, feelings and behaviors are the channels your internal GPS uses to communicate with you.

Here are mine.

Behaviors:  I let the dishes build up, I want late night treats (yogurt almonds are my latest favorite), I procrastinate going to bed, I watch more TV than normal.

Thoughts:  “I don’t want to do this anymore”

Feelings:  I feel irritated, pressured and rushed.  If it is really bad, I feel like I hate everything and don’t care about anything.

If you pay attention to when these signals show up, you will be able to catch stress levels creeping up sooner.

STEP 2: Figure out the source of your stress and what kind of stress it is.

Once you reflect for a minute, you will likely be able to identify it right away.  The next part of this step is: what kind of stress is it?

  • Short Term: This is a stressor that is happening for a short run, think about 3 weeks or less.

TO DO: Remind yourself it is time limited, that you can make it through time limited stress.  We tend to forget it is time limited when we are in it.  Focus on the basics: sleep, food, water, breathing, exercising, keeping your mind right.  Don’t try to look at making progress on long term issues/projects.

  • Long Term:  This is something that lasts for more than 3 weeks.

TO DO: Incentivize.  Give yourself something to look forward to at the end of the stressful time.  Build in breaks or incentives along the way if you can.  It would be good to schedule a massage or make sure you are getting in something to take care of yourself along the way too.

  • Too Much:  This when you have too much on your plate.  Your eyes were bigger than your stomach.  Or, everything just piled up around the same time by accident.

TO DO: You are taking things to a new level. That means you need new coping strategies or to re-introduce ones that have worked in the past during stressful times.

  • Too Little:  This can happen on a break between projects, can be when you have been doing something that you are good at but you don’t feel challenged.

TO DO: Are you at a plateau? Check your long game.  Sometimes you are stressing because you want to take things to the next level, but that desire hasn’t made it to your conscious awareness yet.  Time to look at long term goals.

  • Expected:  This is when you know something stressful is coming in your life.  Think about a wedding or a baby being born.  Maybe it is a move or a job change.

TO DO: Communicate and plan in advance for breaks/incentives/strategies.

  • Unexpected: This is when life throws you a curve ball.

TO DO: This is the hardest. Once you get through the feelings that come up during and right afterward (don’t be afraid to get help to process the feelings), try to look for meaning. That creates perspective.  Once we understand the purpose of something in our lives, we tend to feel more settled about it.

Step 3:  Make Changes in Your Thoughts, Feelings or Behaviors to head the stress off at the pass.

Because your thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all connected to your internal world, if you change one, the others will shift as well.

If we take my example of how I respond to stress above, you can see the changes I could make in italics.

Behaviors:  I let the dishes build up, I want late night treats (yogurt almonds are my latest favorite), I procrastinate going to bed, I watch more TV.

SHIFT: Make a point to wash dishes once at the end of the day, get to bed on time, make sure I am implementing a strategy from step #2 above depending on the stressor such as schedule a massage for myself.

Thoughts:  “I don’t want to do this anymore”.

SHIFT: Remind myself of the goal, the reason for the stress so I can stay motivated.  Remind myself that it is a short time that I have to tolerate this.  Remind myself that I have the option to set up something to take care of myself while this stressful time is happening.

Feelings:  I feel irritated, pressured and rushed.  If it is really bad, I feel like I hate everything and don’t care about anything.

SHIFT: Remind myself that these feelings are just because I am stressed, not an overall evaluation of my life. I let it be OK that I don’t care about anything.  Vent to someone, let the feelings out.

This process doesn’t eliminate stress.

It doesn’t make things “all better now”.  It is about alerting you to the fact that the first signs of stress are ones that you can use to your advantage by realizing you need to do just a little bit of triage before you start going off the rails.  A little bit of stress and struggle never hurt anyone, the part that is crushing is when it is too late in the game.

What are your stress habits?  What do you do that could tip you off that your stress level is on the rise?


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