Roy Morgan looks at the different ways pressured practitioners can react to stressful situations
‘Stress can be the spice of life, the exhilaration of challenge and excitement, the high of living with heavy demands on you. Once you make a friend of stress, the forces which once seemed to be working against you become positive energies that define you, strengthen you and help you express your own brand of creativity and joy.’
Consider a day in the life of Conan the caveman.
Conan wakes in his cave in the morning. He has two things on his mind – food to stay alive and the responsibility to pass on his genes and propagate the species. He leaves his cave, club in hand, searching for lunch. A rustle in the bushes! A sabre-toothed tiger or a sheep? Reaction? Fight or flight?
The tiger – he flees and lives to propagate the species. The sheep – he has lunch and lives to propagate the species.
It is the stress factor that keeps him alive and means that we are here today. Exactly the same stress factor that tells us to move our hand away from a naked flame or not to step into the path of a speeding car. It keeps us alive.
There is a tried and tested expression: ‘If you want something done ask a busy person.’
Is that because they thrive on stress? The result of the positive energy, or is it simply that they do not prevaricate? They just do it.
Often it is the thought of actually making a start on something that causes us to freeze.
As Winston Churchill said: ‘Perfection spells p-a-r-a-l-y-s-i-s.’
Lawyers in particular strive to be perfectionists: dot every ‘i’, cross every ‘t’. It just prevents us actually starting, until we have the time we think we need to make sure it is perfect. End result, prevarication and delay.
There are different ways of responding to stress. One way relates to the external elements of stress: changing the way we work and changing the things that cause us stress. This involves avoiding or altering the things that trigger stress.
We can also change our responses to stress. Here we try to adapt ourselves, or accept the stress.
Avoiding stress means changing the situations in which we find ourselves. Are there alternatives to those situations? If someone causes you stress, do you need to spend time with them? Do you get stressed driving to work? Can you walk, cycle, take public transport and read on the way? Preferably a book not a tablet. Can you say ‘No’?
Altering the situation recognises that we cannot avoid all stress. Sometimes the best we can do is manage the stress situation to make it more tolerable. Too much to do? Can you delegate and distribute the load better?
Perhaps not easy, but can you speak to employers and colleagues to explain what is going on for you and your wish to control stress in order to become more productive.
Another option is to adapt ourselves and how we respond.
This involves adopting positive perspectives on obstacles that might be preventing us from doing what we need to do. Learn to recognise the things that we cannot change and have no control over. Avoid perfectionism. We are not perfect. We are all fallible. Take time out. Breathe – and think how good it feels. Try deep and slow breathing. Stress shallows our breathing restricting our oxygen intake
Exercise – and exercise gratitude. Is there anything to be thankful for? Look around you and your life and think of the things that are good within it.
Accepting that you cannot change everything is often a great help as long as it is not used as a copout.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week – more here