The world is changing at an ever-increasing pace, and it’s taking a toll on us. From the moment we wake up until the time we go to bed, we have the sensation of running up the down escalator just to get through our day. The result? Chronic stress, fear and anxiety have become part of our everyday lives.
Stress itself is normal — a result of our body’s natural “fight or flight” response — and lets us know when we need to respond to approaching threat or danger. But our lives are so hectic today, and we’re faced with an unimaginable amount of change, that we face stress not just in response to the most serious dangers, but throughout the day and over long periods of time.
It’s chronic stress that’s unhealthy and has dangerous effects on our bodies, including high blood pressure, increased blood sugar, ulcers and blood clots. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US, and stress can be a contributing factor.
Behaviorally, stress is no less forgiving — making us irritable, anxious or depressed.
When we’re stressed out, we’re not the only ones affected: stress is contagious, so we risk passing it on to those around us. As leaders, when we don’t manage our stress, we create stressed out employees who aren’t able to be as productive or effective as they could be.
While we can’t necessarily get rid of the stressful influences we face, we can change our response to them. Rather than view the challenges and uncertainties we encounter as threats, we can learn to think of them as opportunities for growth.
Here are three crucial behaviors for reframing how we handle stress in our lives:
1. Honesty. The ability to speak openly and honestly with everyone in your life — colleagues, family members, friends — is a critical behavior for reducing stress. If a team member isn’t performing up to par, avoiding a conversation only increases your anxiety. When we find the courage to have honest (and sometimes difficult) conversations, we relieve stress by being proactive, transparent and open. We avoid the energy of thinking through countless “what if” scenarios, and confront the situation head on.
3. Open to Learning. Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock,” is quoted as having said “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
The willingness to learn is crucial for reducing stress. Rather than facing new situations as threats to be resisted, think about facing them as an eager and willing learner. It completely shifts your response and anxiety to the situation.
3. Belief in self. Believing in yourself means believing in your capacity to change and in your ability to deal with whatever comes your way. It’s saying to yourself, “No matter what I’m experiencing or encountering, I have the ability to change. I can learn new, more effective behaviors for dealing with whatever I face.”
Maybe there’s a conversation you’ve been avoiding? Or a situation that’s causing you anxiety because it means stepping out of your comfort zone? Whatever it is, choose one thing that’s been causing you stress. Commit to trying a new behavior this week — whether it means confronting a difficult situation openly or shifting your mindset. Start small, and then build on it in week two.
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DONNA RAE SMITH is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She has forged a career, enterprise and an applied discipline on the practice of teaching leaders to be masters of change. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company with an emphasis on the behavior-side of change. For more than two decades, Donna Rae Smith and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in executing behavioral strategies coalesced with business strategies to accelerate and sustain business results. Bright Side®, The Behavioral Strategy Company, has partnered with over 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae at
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