I want to preface today’s blog by saying that this is for micro (acute) stress, not chronic stress. This share is about recognizing the difference between stress and stressors and how to prevent micro stressors from ruining your day. I don’t want to overlook the fact that so many people are dealing with chronic stress that this would not apply to. If this is you, I encourage you to reach out to someone for support, especially if you are feeling hopeless. I’m sending you so much love if this is how you are feeling.
Last week, hot coffee in hand, I walked to my computer ready to write my weekly Monday coaching email. I received a phone call from my husband, and he asked me if I could handle something for the new house build. Well, after a couple of phone calls, and my stress levels rising, I had to take action right away and drive 2 hours to get what we needed for our occupancy permit that is happening in 30 days.
Enter The Stressors
Stressor 1, writing my weekly coaching email would have to wait. I had to drop what I was doing, not because one is more important than the other, but because one was more time sensitive and had major consequences if it wasn’t done.
Stressor 2, it was over an hour drive each way, and I would have to do the drive again the next day, making that 4 hours of driving and being away from other important tasks that needed to be completed.
Stressor 3, all of this was because of COVID 19 and it reminded me of how many areas of our lives have been affected by this pandemic. Making me say, “When is this going to end?!
Stressor 4, it was pouring rain, freezing outside, and I didn’t want to leave the house. Now, this would not normally be a stressor, but the others compounded it. Which is often how micro stress gains momentum.
Now Comes The Stress Response
As I sat in my car, waiting for the bum warmer on my seat to heat up, I could feel my entire body just vibrating and my emotional state become pissy and irritable. Mentally, I was thinking of all the ways this was my husbands fault 😉 External blame is usually where our mind goes when we get triggered. This is normal.
I heard this little voice in my head say, “Are you really going to let this ruin your day? Stop being so pissy!” Sometimes I want to strangle the person behind that voice, which I don’t because it is myself. “Of course I don’t want it to ruin my day. But it is so annoying!” Where I proceeded to say, “So be annoyed, but use this time for something good.”
I did just that. I put on a 2-hour podcast, which was perfectly timed for the commute, and after about 20 minutes, I felt myself relax. I couldn’t control the stressor, it had to be done and driving the 2-hours was the only way it could be done. But I could control the stress that the stressor was causing me.
Stress vs. Stressors
Here’s the thing, we look at stress from the lens of only trying to control the external stressors.
Stressors are external. Stress is internal. Meaning, we experience an external stressor and if we are triggered by it, if we feel unsafe, or our fight or flight is turned on, we experience internal stress (a physical, mental and/or emotional reaction).
What we often don’t do is process the emotional impact that the negative/challenging external factors have on us. Eventually the external stressor goes away, we have solved the problem, dealt with the challenge, the experience is over, but emotionally, mentally and internally, the stress is still occurring. You go to sleep and you are still pissed off, annoyed, in disbelief, or feeling guilt or shame, even though it is over. If all we are doing is trying to control the external circumstance, experience, or even person, we never actually get off the stress train. It ends externally, but not internally.
It isn’t because we’re not trying. We are! We are trying really hard and doing ALL the things, and in doing all the things, we are often bypassing our emotions – how the stressor (external) made us feel (internal). And if we don’t deal with what is happening internally, we are going to constantly get triggered by the same thing over and over again. Or we will just keep following the same pattern. Stress, stress, stress, hustle, hustle, hustle, burnout, take a workshop, do some self care and repeat. We never truly leave stress-ville.
I’m not trying to get you to never experience a stressor or negative emotion. That is impossible! I’m trying to show you that there is a less resistant way to deal with the stressful conditions and experiences that ARE going to happen. Not if, but when.
I practice these tools often, so I know how to manage my internal stress well, especially for micro stressors. These steps just naturally happen, which they do with practice, so don’t worry if you need to think of these practices/steps before it becomes habitual. You are going to feel all the feels, the practice just helps you not take up permanent residence in it.
Practice 1: Claim It Before It Claims You
I claimed how I was feeling without shaming myself. In the blog where I wrote about the emotional scale is a wonderful tool for this.
I claimed it as soon as I got in the car when I realized I was reacting in a way that didn’t feel good. “I’m feeling irritable and pissed off that I have to do this, on a dreary rainy day and miss out on 2 hours of work. I’m even angrier that I have to drive the 2 hours because COVID is the reason the closer location closed. UGH!”
I’m allowed to feel all these feelings. And so are you.
Practice 2: Ask Yourself, Is This The Emotional State I Want To Stay In?
Listen, you may want to stay pissed off and angry for a while. That is okay. Sometimes that release of anger feels good. Yell it out into a pillow. Write it all out in curse words in your journal. Cry the, I’m so angry ugly cry. But eventually you need to leave that emotional state that is causing you to feel mentally, emotionally and physically stressed.
When you are ready to leave it, and you’ve answered no, this is not the emotional state I want to be in, head over to practice 3.
Practice 3: Control The Inner Stress, Not The External Stressor
There are so many things that happen that are so out of our control. Those are external stressors. This distinction will serve you and serve you well. Managing the emotional, mental and physical stress that the stressor/trigger causes you is where your power lies. That is what will help you experience emotional and mental freedom, even when you are being challenged, triggered or your buttons are being pushed. A little bit of stress is okay. But unrelenting stress that takes its toll on you mentally, emotionally and physically, every single day, will impact your mental and physical health. This is what causes burnout.
It’s like a Gazelle being chased by a lion every single day, never being able to fully rest. She couldn’t sustain that and would eventually burnout and collapse. Our bodies are the same.
Using my experience that morning as an example, I put my podcast on, took some deep breaths and decided I would just enjoy having the uninterrupted time to listen to a 2-hour podcast. I continued to breathe deeply until my body relaxed. The stressor (external challenge) was still there, but the stress (internal reaction) was not.
I stopped it from making me feel like a Gazelle needing to run away from a lion all day. I gave it an ending, so that it wouldn’t build up throughout the day. It stayed a micro stressor that ended as soon as the problem was handled and the challenge was overcome. Had I let the emotional stress of it build, I would still be stewing over it.
Actions You Can Take
I want to end by sharing how you can incorporate this share into your life. What I recommend is taking those three steps, write them down and when you feel yourself being triggered by a stressor, practice those steps.
Remember, don’t bypass the feeling – you feel, it matters. This practice is just to ensure that you don’t take up permanent residence in a place you don’t want to be in – like stress-ville. Drive through it, visit it, but don’t build a house in it.