Don't Let Stress
Get the Best of You
by Suzanne Zoglio, Ph.D.
It’s easy to feel stressed these days with a roller
coaster market, unemployment, corporate corruption,
terrorism around the world, and wacky weather that makes
one wonder if we have irreparably riled Mother Nature.
What we once "knew" no longer is, and what we
never dreamed of has--in many cases--come true. No
wonder we’re stressed!
However, even in an insane world, we don’t all
respond to stress in the same way. Two coworkers are
given the same deadline; one sees it as enormous
pressure--the other as needed motivation. One woman
perceives divorce as increased freedom, while another
feels great loss. Two breadwinners laid off will both be
stressed, yet one gets an ulcer while the other gets a
new job. Why such a wide range of responses? The answer
is this: stress is very personal. It’s based on
our personal perceptions of a threat, our level of
confidence or faith, and our ability to turn desire into
action. In other words, to manage stress, we need to
protect our best parts--our inner wisdom, our faith,
and our creative inspiration. The question is:
"Will you take charge and manage your stress…or
let it get the best of you?"
Assuming you’d prefer to be in the driver’s seat,
here are three things you can do to keep your stress in
check (please notice that not one of them involves
pulling out your hair, escaping to Tahiti, or telling
your boss off).
Listen To Your Inner Voice…Often!
Imagine if you will, that you have at your disposal a
wise old mentor who knows much about life, and love, and
growth and challenge. As your generous guide, this sage
replies to your questions with assurances, suggestions,
and reminders of your past successes. Whenever you hear
that clear, calm, and caring voice, you know in an
instant just what to do. You know in your soul the path
that is right for you next. Now, imagine further that
you actually take the time to listen to this priceless
wisdom. What would your life be like? Would your focus
be clear? Your heart grateful? Your confidence at an
all-time high? Isn’t that your desired state?
That may be the desired state, but in today’s 24/7,
busy-is-better world, we more often race through the day
at a break-neck pace, without noticing what hurts, what’s
great, or our own internal state. If you have ever
noticed a bruise that you don’t recall making, you’ll
understand how much we tune out throughout the day.
Although we each come equipped with our own STS (stress
tracking system), we often fail to use it. We ignore the
churning in our stomachs or the ache in our backs that
signal we’re under stress. We deny that our lost sense
of humor or intolerance of others is really a sign that
we’re obsessing about something. In short, we miss the
warning signs of stress, making it harder to manage.
Instead, try visiting with your inner sage more often,
sitting silently--perhaps three times a day--to clear
your mind, take stock of what feels right and what doesn’t,
and to get some perspective on what’s best for you
You might just close your eyes and notice how your
body feels, or invite your wise companion to help you
see what is scaring you, or take a walk in the park and
focus on what you really want. To manage stress
effectively, give more time to your "wise"
side. Take a break, turn up the quiet, and pose a
question (How am I feeling? What am I afraid might
happen? How do I want to feel? What can I do to feel
clearer, safer, happier, more in charge?). Then, go
about your business, and expect a revelation to hit you
some time soon. You might be in the shower, out for a
run, weeding your garden, or finishing a meditation
break when--zap--it hits you! That’s it--the answer
to your question.
Taking the time to listen to your inner voice is best
when it is a daily ritual (for example, first thing in
the morning, at noon, or at sunset), to provide you with
a kind of all-purpose stress-shield. However,
mini-retreats become even more critical in times of
stress because once a "survival" mode kicks
in, it overrides the senses, making it difficult to
sniff out the right path, see things in perspective, or
hear the sweet music of "what to do next." So,
next time you’re feeling stressed, close the door,
turn off the phone, and take a few deep breaths…then
listen to that wise voice within.
Tame Your Brain Critic
So once you know what’s beneath your stress and
what you can do to reduce it, you’ve got to tame your
brain critic…the one that likes to poke holes in your
best solutions. You know, the voice that grumbles:
"Who are you kidding--you can’t do that!" or
"Get real--that will never work." or "THEY
will have a fit." It’s the voice that likes to
minimize your coping abilities and catastrophize outside
As a friend’s father once said, "Yep, I can’t
never could do anything!" To move your life forward--from wherever you
are--you’ve got to fuel your
faith in your ability to change. Every time you hear
that little weasel squeal, "You’re not
enough!" hit the delete button fast and replace the
phrase with an enabling one. Switch each "I can’t…"
to "I can if …." Change every "They’ll
never…" to "Whatever they do, I can choose
my response." Take every dreadful image (of pain,
loneliness, failure, or worse) that pops onto your mind’s
screen, and click to a fresh image of whatever you wish
to see in your life. Beat back the negative with
affirmations, and nourish your spirit with images that
One sure sign that your brain critic is winning the
race is when you see no light at the end of the tunnel.
Perhaps you have slipped into a catastrophizing
mode. You know…your boss won’t just be displeased;
you’ll be fired! Your blood pressure is not just
rising; you’re going to have a stroke! You’re not
just getting a divorce; you’ll be alone forever. You
know how it goes…from disappointment to a
life-threatening event…in less time than it takes for
you to remember your social security number…especially
if you’re past fifty.
So what can you do, to break out of "the sky is
falling" mode? Go to the balcony. No, not to jump…to
an imaginary balcony where in your mind’s eye you can
view your past, your present, and what’s on the
horizon. As you look back and remember the times when
you pulled yourself up, bravely moved on, or creatively
turned a block into a new opportunity, you will be
reminded of your strength and resilience. As you look
forward you will see the wide horizon…limitless
opportunities…just waiting for you. The perspective
you will gain from going to the balcony is just the view
your brain critic would like to hide from you. Go often.
If you really want to tame your brain critic, keep an
ongoing S.T.A.R. (simple thanks and recognition) folder
with a running list of your successes, notes of thanks,
and symbols of your personal progress. Whenever you get
stressed--and fear you can’t cope--pull out the
file and climb to your balcony.
Stress-Buster #3: Act on Behalf of Serenity
Once you take the time to map a new path and get the
upper hand on your brain critic, try a third
stress-buster: commit to making choices based on whether
or not they are in alignment with what you really want.
When your outer actions support your inner aspirations,
you will feel reduced stress and a heightened sense of
inner peace. A certain calmness or serenity will
surround you. While that may sound like a lofty ideal,
it can be simplified by asking yourself one question as
you make choices in your daily life. Each time you are
about to take an action, ask: "Will this step move
me in the direction of what I really want?"
If so, take the step. If not, consider a different
action. For instance, suppose you lose your job and are
thinking that it’s kind of a mixed blessing because it’s
the push you’ve needed to start your own business. You
scout about, find the financing, and then your old
employer invites you back. Should you resume the
familiar job or take a shot at your dream? Which will
reduce your stress? Short-term, the old job will be less
stressful than the new because it is "safer."
However, long-term it is likely the old job will
increase your stress because it’s not the choice that
moves you toward what you really want. The
test, then--of what will add or reduce stress--is
whether the decision is on behalf or in conflict with
your heart’s desire. If you’re considering telling
someone off, but what you really want is harmonious
relations, the action obviously will not be on behalf of
your serenity. In fact, it will likely leave you
churning inside. So make your choices going forward
based on what’s most important to you--as the
person you aspire to be--not on an impulse, a fear of
failure, or because someone else thinks you
"should." Act on behalf of your serenity and
you will be living your life from the inside out. Do
what is important, use what gifts you’ve been given,
and take charge of your choices to create a life that
feels right. THAT is acting on behalf of serenity.
Reprinted with permission of Suzanne Zoglio, Ph.D.,
motivational speaker and author of Create A Life That
Tickles Your Soul (Named "Outstanding Book of
the Year" and "Most Life-Changing" in the
Independent Publisher Book Awards 2000). Read a free
excerpt at: www.tickleyoursoul.com.
Suzanne Zoglio is an executive coach and motivational speaker who has helped thousands to release their potential. Through her writing, coaching, and seminars, she helps individuals and work teams reinvent themselves. With a personal mission to nurture growth…in individuals, groups, and society…she supports practices that lead to enhanced peace, passion, and purpose.
Suzanne has worked in the field of human development all of her adult life…as a teacher, counselor, corporate trainer, team consultant, and self-development writer. She hold a master's degree in counseling and a doctorate in organizational psychology. Helping people manage change for over 20 years, she's coached executives, facilitated work team development, and presented motivational seminars to hundreds of groups across the USA and Europe.
Suzanne's third book, Create A Life That Tickles Your Soul (Tower Hill Press, 1999) is now available in paperback as well as hardcover. Two earlier books are also available online from Amazon.com: Teams At Work: 7 Keys To Success (Tower Hill Press, 1997) and The Participative Leader. (Irwin Professional Publishing, 1994).
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