I included some of this in my earlier post and then decided it needed to be a post on its own.
I picked up a copy of Scientific American Mind from a newsstand recently because of the cover articles on stress. (In fact, it is probably still on newsstands.) If you read this blog, you’ll know I’m very interested in stress management and health and well-being.
I read in the article Fight the Frazzled Mind that very few people know how to be productive when they are not being pushed by stressors — but it can be done. The author of the article, Robert Epstein, says it is possible to perform well when relaxed. Epstein says:
That should be the goal, in my opinion: a life that is productive but also virtually stress-free.
I can go along with that. In fact, that is a fabulous goal to have, in my opinion! (He says to think of kung fu masters. I think of the hypnotized guy in Office Space. My hero!)
When I realized that I wanted to do the kind of work that I would love doing even if I didn’t get paid for it, I set myself on that path.
Epstein, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, says research suggests there are at least four broad, trainable skill sets that people can use to manage stress in a healthy, effective manner:
- source management (reducing or eliminating sources of stress)
- relaxation (breathing, meditation, yoga)
- thought management (interpreting events in ways that don’t hurt you)
- prevention (avoiding stress before it happens)
The article has a 16-question quiz designed to help you discover where you are competent and where you can improve. He says if you score under 12, you might want to consider taking a stress-management course. (Or you could come to me for relaxation coaching…just saying!)
The full 28-question version of his stress management test is online. I took it, and my best areas were relaxation and prevention. My worst area was thought management — probably because the test presupposes that irrational beliefs are stressful. I actually enjoy uncovering my irrational beliefs and have fun with them. I don’t allow them to stress me, and I don’t believe that irrationality per se equates with stress.
I find right-brain irrationality to be less stress-producing than left-brain rationality. People have a lot of irrational beliefs that are very comforting. Think about life-after-death beliefs. Rationally, it’s a huge unknown and very stressful. Anything else is irrational — and hopefully gives your life solace and meaning.
By the way: If your irrational beliefs are stressful, find a way to question, deflate, or replace them with non-stressful, positive beliefs. Byron Katie’s The Work is simply the best tool out there, in my opinion and that of many others.
So that’s my one quibble with this research, and it’s probably just semantic.
I can definitely work on source management: getting more organized with things, tasks, space, and time. I do okay but could do better.
Before doing the research, Epstein thought that relaxation and thought management — the focus of most stress reduction efforts — would be most effective at helping people reduce stress, be happier, and more successful personally and professionally.
Instead, he found that prevention is by far the most helpful competency when it comes to managing stress. Prevention includes:
- every morning, spend a little time planning your day
- identify and then reduce or eliminate stressors
- stay on top of things by keeping an updated to-do list
- have a clear plan of how you’d like your life to proceed over the next few years
In addition to these strategies, he adds two more for fighting stress before it starts:
- commit to replacing self-destructive ways of managing stress with healthful ways; for instance, take a yoga class instead of going to happy hour
- immunize yourself from stress using exercise, thought management, and relaxation techniques
Epstein found that on average, people scored 55 out of 100 on a test of simple stress management techniques. That means people are failing — badly — at managing their stress levels.
He also states that the new study found a high positive relationship between test scores and the overall level of happiness people reported, personal success, and professional success. Nearly 25 percent of the happiness we experience in life is related to — and maybe even the result of — our ability to manage stress.
That’s significant. Would you like to be 25 percent happier?
The best news is that stress management is trainable, with the greatest benefits reaped from prevention.
This is work worth doing.