Focus on the problem
Get organized. What do you need to do to attack this problem or diminish its efect?
Focus on healthy emotions
Pretend. Act the part of a super-cool, confident person.
Correct your negative thoughts. Be sceptical about the cause of your stress. Is it really so serious?
Reward your progress with positive feedback.
Focus on stress-reducing activities
Get physical. Keep it with plenty of walking, swimming or sport.
Try relaxation exercises.
Eat well. Have a healthy diet and don’t skip meals.
Get some balance. Find absorbing, relaxing activities.
Get enough rest. Most adults need 7–8 hours sleep a night.
If you are a perfectionist, put yourself into learning mode by striving for your current best rather than being perfect. Think of it this way: Striving to be perfect is an imperfect strategy. It will lead you into stress and decrease your performance.
If being less than perfect really worries you, think of perfection as a life-time goal, not something you have to achieve for this particular exam, presentation or game. Do your best today and be content with that. Develop your skills and strive for a new personal best next time.
4.6.1 Control commitment challenge
Sandy and his colleagues have studied people who handle stressful situations well and turn them into opportunities for growth. They have found that stress-hardy people show three characteristics: the three Cs of hardiness – control, commitment and challenge.82 he research is showing that hardiness is a feature of vigorous mental health and that stress-hardy people ‘have more fulfilling, satisfying, resilient and remarkable lives’.
The three Cs give us a systematic approach to handling stress and disruptive emotions. You can use many of the skills we’ve discussed so far and it’s essential to begin with the supreme liberating choice – to take charge of your own life.
Control means facing reality and striving to take control of the stressful situation. Hardy people know they can choose how they handle situations, and do. They see stressful situations in context, so they make sure they know why the threats are happening and how serious those threats really are. They also have a range of coping skills.
Let’s take an example of control in action. Say you develop a life-threatening illness. You decide to reduce your workload and take more exercise (so you are making choices). You know that the survival rate for that illness gives you a good chance of living a normal life (seeing a context for the stress) and whenever you feel stressed you find ways of relaxing and keep reminding yourself of your odds of survival (using your coping skills).
Various studies of people in stressful situations have revealed the power of two particular coping skills that can give us a sense of control: optimism and goal-setting. It’s a definition of hope.
People living with cancer, caring for schizophrenics and parents of boys with behavior disorders who scored highest on a scale of hopefulness were the most resilient. The parents would agree with statements such as, ‘I energetically pursue my goals. I can think of many ways to get out of a jam. Even when others get discouraged, I know I can find a way to solve the problem’.84
Commitment means being committed to our goals and our belief that we are capable – even when the stress rises to precarious levels. It also means being committed to relationships with family, friends and colleagues. People who make those commitments have a sense of purpose and they know they can call on their relationships in times of stress.
Being committed to relationships may have life-saving benefits. Researchers in Montreal have found that women with breast cancer who had a supportive husband were 15 per cent more likely to be alive after seven years. A second confidante and a supportive doctor each added one more percentage point to their chance of survival.
Let’s say that you are the coach of your sports team and the results for the first few games are so bad that there’s talk of you being replaced mid-season. You remain committed to your team’s goal of winning the national championships and exude confidence with the players and the supporters (committed to goals and the belief that you are capable). You also make sure that you don’t compromise ‘family time’ (committed to relationships) and draw on the support of your partner, particularly after the team loses another game (calling on relationships).
Challenge means feeling challenged by stressful situations. Stress-hardy people tend to see change as normal and interesting, and an opportunity to learn. It’s an attitude we should always be cultivating.
Perhaps your business is under attack from a large rival that has just moved into the market and is beginning to head-hunt your most valuable staff. You decide that you are going to enjoy the battle with your rival (feeling challenged). You remember how the last couple of times competitors threatened the firm, you made some very worthwhile changes and ended up with a much stronger, more efficient organization (seeing stress as more of an opportunity than a threat).
Three American researchers have studied the coping strategies of refugees. All the refugees had endured some kind of trauma – death of close family members, serious injuries, separation from their families, assaults and the loss of their homes, possessions, homeland and security. The researchers’ report includes some recommendations based on the strategies of the refugees who handled the trauma most successfully.
Organizations involved in relief work, the researchers said, should provide opportunities for refugees to have some control over their lives, make active efforts to reduce the stress and interact with other people. It’s another way of saying that the relief agencies should help refugees use the first two Cs of hardiness – control and commitment.85
Researchers who have studied business executives, city bus drivers, family assistance workers involved in disasters and sports people facing the pressures of competition, sponsorship and media attention have found that being stress-hardy has other benefits – including better physical health and more confidence.