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Shane Pascoe

Feel Good: How to change your mood

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Stress management on a Post-It note

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Stress is your body’s response to something that you experience in your environment and is a completely normal part of your life; it is not in itself a bad thing. In fact, people perform better with some level of stress because, as you will see, the stress response makes you more alert, releases energy and helps you to concentrate better. Distress is an emotional state which you may find yourself in when you are unable to deal with stress. When you understand stress and distress you can manage your reactions better and support others as they find their balance.   

We all experience stress

Everyone has experienced some amount of stress in their lives whether it be answering a tricky question in a job interview, taking an exam or hearing a sudden noise when you are alone in a dark house. How do you know this is a stress response? Well, our body physically changes in response to stress; chemicals and hormones are released that have an effect on your body. Your body in turn recognizes sensations such as dizziness, numbness, and being short of breath. This cycle of physical change then recognition of that change can get out of control. Remember stress is something we all experience and a little bit of stress is helpful to get us primed for action.

As you become more aware of your body you may notice your own warning signs to too much stress or distress. Take a look at the box on the right – perhaps you can identify one or more of them as being something you have witnessed in employees or perhaps experienced yourself? This list is not exhaustive, there are many different signs that you may become aware of.

Warning signs of stress

  • Tension in your forehead or shoulders
  • Sensations of nausea, lightness in your stomach or breathing more rapidly
  • Things you do, like picking your nails or clenching your fists
  • Noticing events, such as becoming more angry more quickly
  • Noticing feelings of impatience, frustration and being more upset with people more often.

Many of us deal with stress by adopting a strategy of avoidance. Again this is a common response and can be seen by people procrastinating or even avoiding work altogether. This avoidance leads to more problems, as the more we avoid the triggers, thoughts, and feelings associated with distress, the worse it becomes. Our aim is to accept and manage stress, approach the very things that scare us the most, and adopt the curious mind of a beginner, practising our self-management skills and celebrating our progress. With a knowledge of, and ability to name, the feelings and sensations of a stress response we can be increasingly optimistic about our ability to prepare, cope, and cherish our successes.

Post-it note technique

When you overestimate the risk of failure, you foster beliefs that maintain avoidance and limit the experiences you have. Experiment with this by noting the difference between your expectations and observations. Think of something that you avoid doing or try to avoid, and on a post-it note write down what the event is, and rate from 1 to 10 how distressing it is. Challenge yourself to do that and afterwards rate how distressing it actually was. This might be something you try yourself or with a friend or co-worker.

You could start with something small, such as saying “hello” to someone, maybe someone you don’t know which most people find challenging. Then you could use further post-it notes and increase the level of the challenge such as tabling an agenda item at an important meeting. At the end of each day, record any challenging events that occurred, how you felt, and any other observations. Now compare the expectations you already had written down about these challenging events or things you were avoiding. Compare these expectations with the actual observations during a typical week.

By challenging your long-held beliefs about what you expect to happen, you are able to change your thinking to make it more realistic, taking into account all your past experiences, strengths, and the common sense you have. When we actively challenge ourselves, we can harness the energy released which is a normal part of the stress response and use it face the things we have been avoiding. The positive results of doing the very thing you are avoiding will surprise you.

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Shane Pascoe

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