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What’s your plan for managing stress?

National Stress Awareness Day

Some years ago, I was looking at what conventional wisdom (aka Google – other search engines are available) was saying about stress. I stumbled upon this little ditty which I found thought-provoking and hope you do too. My research skills failed to identify the source so I’m unable to credit the original author (but I’m not going to stress about it!):

“A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the ‘half empty or half full’ question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: ‘How heavy is this glass of water?’

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, ‘The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.’

She continued, ‘The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything. Remember to put the glass down”.

What are your thoughts on this narrative? I found it interesting and then wondered why don’t we just put the glass down. What stops us? Why do we hold on to things for so long?

The Chimp Model helps us to understand why we struggle to put the glass down. More importantly, applying the Model practically to manage our minds helps us to ask if we need to pick the glass up in the first place, let alone put it down! It offers a framework in which to look at stress differently and according to more recent research, more helpfully. 

Consider the following two questions, the first one might sound a little moot at this stage but please bear with me:

  1. Do you want to be stressed? 
  2. How do you want to be around stress? 
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If the answer to question 1 is ‘no’, then why don’t you just stop being stressed?

I’m curious to know how you answered question 2. You are a unique individual so I guess it will vary widely, perhaps you thought ‘accepting, clear-headed, proactive, composed? It could be anything but I’m quite sure you didn’t answer with: panicked, fearful, anxious, or headless.

These two reflective questions demonstrate how our minds are divided and often in conflict. How the Chimp (emotional) circuits and the Human circuits (logic and rationality) interpret and operate with stress. It’s a wonderful thing when they work together but often a skill. This is merely a snapshot and I’d strongly encourage you to read Units 18 and 19 of stage 6 in Professor Peters’ book ‘A Path through the Jungle’ for a comprehensive review and some practical exercises.

How is Stress helpful?

Stress is nature’s way of telling us something is wrong and needs to be put right. It’s normal, healthy and natural to experience stress, however, if we don’t choose the right system and plan for it then it can persist and become unhealthy.

When it comes to dealing with stress, the Chimp will focus on the problem, whereas the Human will look for a solution. Take, for example, conflict with another person. The Chimp will use what’s in its toolbox, namely fight (continually argue), flight (avoid the other person, sometimes indefinitely), or freeze (pretend it isn’t happening and normalise being treated in an unhealthy manner). These might seem helpful in the short term but, the problem still remains.

The Human, on the other hand, has the ability to try to understand the person in front of them, find ways of collaborating, implement boundaries, remain assertive, say no if required and focus on what’s in it’s control rather than expect the other person to change. A longer-term, values-based approach. There are three stages we naturally pass through when it comes to stress:

1) The alerting stage (something’s wrong).
2) The resilience stage (here’s our opportunity to act).
3) The stressed stage (we missed the opportunity and we remain in Chimp mode).

Recognising that we have a chance to deal with the stress and act can often be life-changing, rather than letting things fester and eat away at us over time.

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To start, this might involve having an Autopilot ready such as ‘what’s the plan’ to keep us solution focussed. The plan might not be detailed or refined, but having a plan nonetheless may help keep the Chimp settled and keep us in Human mode. Over time, of course, this accepting yet proactive approach becomes embedded in our Computer system and is a skill-based, more helpful, automatic response to stress. Essentially, we are building a healthy mindset around stress and ultimately getting one step ahead of our Chimps when it comes to managing stress.

 

So, could your plan for managing stress now involve The Chimp Model?
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