One day, at my last place of work, the managing director asked me to write our new stress management course. At the time, I remember telling him that I did not think it would be a success. If people wanted stress management, I reasoned, then they might as well enrol at the local college where they would be sure to get it for a fraction of the price we would be charging.
However, he wanted the course and so, once handed the responsibility, I looked into what we mean by stress and how it can be dealt with effectively. My approach was that prevention would be better than cure and so the course took a close look at Habit #7, sharpen the saw, from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Essentially, the basic premise is that if you choose to live your life out of balance, then the likely consequence is that you will need to deal with stress. If you examine your life and seek to redress any imbalance, however, then you will quite naturally manage stress proactively.
What is Stress?
The definition I like is that stress is what we experience as a result of facing a perceived demand/capability imbalance. Fundamentally, stress is a perception and despite the pressure we are operating beneath, whilst we think we are ok, basically we are ok. It is when we make the mental decision that we can’t cope that we get into trouble.
Faced with some demand/capability imbalance, our brain tries to help out and, of course, it does this by initiating the famous fight or flight response. This is a series of physiological changes that are designed to help us to run or fight – very useful in a physically threatening situation, but largely useless in the workplace.
The Fight or Flight Response
- Adrenaline Release
- Accelerated Pulse
- Blood Directed to Viral Organs
- Nostrils Open
- Eyes Dilate
- Activation of Clotting Agents in the Blood
These changes are all helpful if we need to run or fight. However, if we don’t deal with them, the resultant chemical changes within the body can actually cause illness.
How to Deal with Stress
Based on habit #7, I suggest that you work on getting your life into balance and by that I mean to ensure that you are doing enough physical exercise, that you are feeding your mind with good stuff and that you get focussed on what is really important to you in life i.e. your mission and your goals. If you will simply do those three things, then you will naturally and proactively manage stress.
It is relatively easy to see how physical exercise is an effective stress reduction strategy after all, if you take regular aerobic you are effectively taking the flight for which the body has prepared you. Aerobic exercise cleanses the body of adrenalin and also increases your capacity for processing oxygen. Reading has been shown in studies to significantly reduce stress, so you can easily couple this stress management technique with the important business of feeding your mind and stimulating your thinking. Finally, developing a proper focus on your mission and goals will help you to keep things in proper perspective.
All in all, habit #7 is a very effective way to tackle the problem of stress even before it starts.