I’m sitting at my desk. The deadline for a major project is creeping in and I’ve been pushing myself to get the majority of it done early. I have a meeting with a potential new client in an hour. My son is coming home from school tomorrow. And I have a committee meeting during dinner time tonight. My fit bit is chirping reminding me that another hour has passed with no active movement on my part. My dog (actually my daughter’s dog) is looking at me with his favorite tennis ball in his mouth, wanting to play. And, the caller ID on my phone is alerting me that my mom is calling. Again.
I’m feeling stress, overwhelm, and completely out of control of what is happening around me.
What Exactly is Happening?
As I sit in these moments, I remind myself that I am a certified emotional intelligence practitioner. I work specifically with people to help them navigate this stuff. The stress and anxiety that often derails us professionally, socially, emotionally, and academically.
So how can it be that I am struggling with this myself?
Easy. I am laser focused on what is happening around me, instead of what’s happening IN me.
The Stress Spiral
Josh Freedman, Six Seconds CEO, has a lot to say about this in his article Stress is Killing Me. Time for Emotional Intelligence? He describes stress as shorthand for a sense of imbalance and impending chaos. For me, feeling pressed for time and playing multiple roles creates a feeling of stress. Freedman goes on to describe a “vicious spiral” that results from feeling stress.
The stress spiral releases a cocktail of peptides and hormones that cause me to have:
Physical reactions such as heart racing and tense muscles
Emotional reactions such as lack of patience and decreased empathy towards others
Mental reactions such as decreased creativity and greater focus on short-term
None of this helps me meet my goals, have healthy and satisfying relationships, and experience a balanced and full life!
Yes, the impending deadline and busy schedule do play a part in my stress. But, how I feel and think about those things play a bigger part.
My feelings and thoughts impact my actions.
Or, emotions drive people, and people drive performance.
Emotions provide us with information about a situation and help us to make decisions and choices. Often times, certain emotions bring an auto-pilot reaction.
For example, when I feel stress, I shut out the world around me and power through. Although I may meet the deadline, the world around me suffers along with me. The committee meeting I was suppose to attend has an empty seat. My family is walking around on egg shells, fending for themselves. My mind is tired and fatigued. My body is craving exercise and nourishment.
We all have patterns. Now you try it.
Some patterns are good. When I see a child struggling, I run towards her to help.
Some are not. When I feel worried, I stay up all night.
It’s easy to point to work, homework, spouses, parents, friends, etc as a source of stress. Stretch yourself to dig deeper beneath the surface when you are feeling stress. Pay attention to your feelings, your thoughts, and how you automatically react to stress.
In the midst of stress, challenge yourself to:
Turn inward to recognize triggers that create stress
Recognize patterns of behavior that lead to stress
Identify self-limiting thoughts, or false beliefs that create stress
Recognize choices and options to create better balance and promote a healthy lifestyle
Respond to stress with intentional actions that break the stress cycle (e.g. take a walk, engage in a fun activity, connect with someone, etc)
Establish and maintain supportive networks and communities to increase dialogue and communication about causes of stress
Be intentional with decisions and choices weighing the consequences
Change your perspective, and perhaps, break things up into bite-sized chunks
Navigate challenges with confidence and optimistic thinking
Successfully respond (vs. react) to pressures, limited time constraints, and resources
Align choices and decisions with what matters most
So going back to my situation….how did I move from stress, overwhelm, and out of control to find some sense of calm? I caught myself in the moment. I recognized the pattern that was about to take its usually course, but this time, I intentionally chose to do something. I got up and walked away to distract myself from the pressure I was creating. With a clear head, I recognized that I created a false belief that I would be more valuable to my client if I exceeded a deadline expectation. And, I realized that by saying yes to beating a deadline, I was actually saying no to so many other things that were important to me as well. So I considered my options, and went back to my calendar, and set reasonable dates to get the project done. I took an extra long walk after dinner with my hubby and the dogs that night, and I even called my mom back!
Stress is on the rise with no relief in sight. Our teens are reporting higher levels of stress than adults. They are learning from us! The consequences of stress have a rippling effect impacting families, friendships, relationships, schools, places of work, communities, and quite possibly, the world.
We need to decide today to change how we are reacting to stress. With emotional intelligence, we can intentionally choose be self-aware, consider the options, and choose an action that aligns with what matters most.
To learn more about how to develop the skills of emotional intelligence, contact EQuip Studios here.
About Kelli Schulte, ACC, EQCA, EQPC
Kelli Schulte is an Emotional Intelligence Consultant and Coach with EQuip Studios, a leading provider of emotional intelligence training, assessment, and coaching. Kelli is using her 25+ years of instructional design, leadership development, and coaching experience to help organizations, leaders, and teams develop and practice the learnable and measurable skills of emotional intelligence.
As a Preferred Partner with Six Seconds, the largest global network of emotional intelligence practitioners, EQuip Studios has access to the latest in research and resources, to develop customized performance improvement solutions that maximize the overall effectiveness of individuals, leaders, teams, and entire organizations.