😎Got Stress? 5 Tricks to Reset

I coach around 30 to 40 professionals across many industries. They range from technology, manufacturing, finance and government.  I’ve noticed a real uptick in the amount of folks suffering from stress and overwhelm.  I believe it’s partially due to so many businesses are short staffed and many are still trying to negotiate the boundary between home and work; and post pandemic, what’s safe and not safe.  I know for myself, the struggle to remember where masks are mandatory, where it’s prudent and wanting to just go back to pre-2020 is real  There is an underlying stress for many folks that a crowd of people still equals danger.  Their body is sending stress signals that other humans are germ carrying vessels and to go wash your hands again.  It’s hard to rewire our brains into relaxing and resetting into calm.  Several of my high performing clients are petrified to return to the office whether the fear is unfounded or not.  It’s difficult to recapture calm once the cortisol is released in your body but there are some tricks that can be helpful.

Here are 5 tricks to reset to calm:

Take 20 Minutes.  When you perceive a threat whether real or imagined (I can’t tell you how many times I thought a root was a snake on a hiking trail), your breathing is shallow, your heart rate goes up, adrenaline and cortisol are released. As Donna Marino wrote for Fast Company, “Psychologists call this process the “fight, flight, or freeze response,” referring to the body’s instinctual reaction to this event. Once this process is triggered, it can take up to 20 minutes for the parasympathetic system to intervene and return you to a state of calm.” So, let’s say you were just embarrassed on a conference call or the offer on your house fell through or you are angry at your partner.  Take a 20-minute break.  Once you are triggered it’s very difficult to speak and think coherently.  If there is any way to take a break to later in the day or, better yet the next day, get some space and time to reset.

Best, Worst, Most Likely.  Perhaps you are nervous to confront your direct report on a poor-quality project or to present to the executive team or to get through this really challenging class.  Think through or write down or chat with a close friend or coach. 

Ask yourself the following three questions:  

  • What is the best outcome?  My employee turns around and gets promoted, I am flawless on the presentation and they tap me for a promotion I get an A+ in the course.  
  • What is the worst outcome? My employee quits and goes on Glass Door to trash me, the executive team hate the presentation and I’m demoted, and I flunk the course and have to take it over. I saw a fun example of this on “This Is Us” as a married couple tries to compete for worst case scenario usually involving a parenting decision.  
  • What is the most likely outcome?  My employee makes improvements and we have a better working relationship, my presentation goes well with only a few hiccups, and I get a B in the class which slightly drops my GPA.  

This helps keep me from dwelling on what could go wrong to imaging the best; realistically facing the worst and then relaxing into what is most likely.

Reframing. The words that I use to describe a situation can influence the way my body perceives it. If I say, “I’m nervous about this new client as opposed to I’m excited about this new client.”  My brain is deciding I’m on high alert in the first part and curious in the second part.  For many weeks leading up to a cross country trip last year I referred to putting my beloved dog Baci into prison for 4 weeks.  Imagine how that made me feel.  When I told a colleague about it he said, “That boarding place?  That’s a resort”.  When I reframed it into a resort, I was less stressed out and more excited (not nervous) to drop Baci off. My good friend Mark sold his family home and while it was daunting, he changed his language to be “I’m excited to clear the garage or cull through my parent’s books.”  The language we use in our head and how we frame it is very important to resetting our mind. 

Role play. It’s extremely helpful to role play or practice a difficult discussion or presentation.  I can play in my mind what I want to say but saying it out loud either by myself to a mirror or to a trusted colleague or to a coach can be super helpful in dampening down one’s nerves.  It’s helpful to work the kinks out.  I do this a lot with my clients and I can give helpful feedback like, “You said “um” six times and you rambled a bit in the last sentence Is there a way to tighten it up?” I personally like to have bullets if I’m going to speak to a crowd or facilitate to a group but you may want flash cards or talking points.  Figure out what makes you most comfortable and practice it to reset to calm. 

Comfortable.  If I know I’m going into something that might make me anxious like a performance discussion with an employee or speaking to a new group or taking an exam, I try to make sure I am as comfortable as possible while matching the situation (I’m not wearing pajamas to a speaking engagement).  As Francis Kuehnle wrote for Healthline, “Aromatherapy is thought to help activate certain receptors in your brain, potentially easing anxiety.” Wear a scent that makes you feel good.  If a shirt or blouse has a tag that rubs against your skin or you are constantly tugging on a top, wear something that makes you feel confident and comfortable. Being comfortable will help you reset into calm. 

These are more short-term ways to deal with stress and anxiety.  There are many regimes that can help with your ability to cope like yoga, meditation, walking outside, better sleep and reducing alcohol and caffeine. I’ve made many lifestyle changes over the last ten years and I have to say I’m much less anxious and tend to roll with the punches more easily.  My suggestion is to try out one of these and see if it has an impact.  How do you reduce stress?

Cry? It’s Good For You.

Some of the best memories from my childhood in Wilmington, Delaware are of my dad rocking me in our black rocking chair while I cried. I guess I was about 5 years old and, being the youngest and only girl, I may have caused a few of the outbursts by pushing my brother Rick or driving him to crazyland. Or, I may have just been plain melodramatic, which sent me to that magical rocking chair with my dad quietly soothing me. Until recently, I feel like he was the only one who let me cry. It’s taboo in our culture to cry. I think we all have those moments where we stifled down the tears and kept a stiff upper lip. I remember the first time I was terminated from a job, as I focused solely on holding back the tears. I have no idea what was said in that meeting, I just remember valiantly “holding it together.”

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Crying is frowned upon for either gender, although it seems boys are pressured to not cry more than girls (I don’t remember seeing my brothers in that magical rocking chair). Crying a sign that you can’t control your emotions, that you are weak or, perhaps, a loose cannon. Well, it turns out that crying is actually good for you.

Here are the reasons it is good to cry:

Toxins. Crying is a toxin removal system. It’s like a dump truck taking the garbage out. According to neuroscientist Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, “Crying actually removes toxins from the body. Tears help humans eliminate chemicals like cortisol that build up during emotional stress and can wreak havoc on the body.” Who doesn’t want to do a cortisol dump occasionally? You don’t need a medication or self-medication (in the form of alcohol or drugs) to eliminate the toxins. Just sit down and have a good cry. It’s a natural body cleanse without the side effects, except for puffy eyes.

Blood pressure. It lowers your blood pressure. I think of it like a release valve on a pressure cooker. Let the steam go. Release it by having a good cry. As cited by Marlo Sollitto, “Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and vented. High blood pressure can damage your heart and blood vessels and contribute to stroke, heart failure and even dementia.” Crying can be good for your health.

Stress. It’s no surprise that since it can remove toxins and lower blood pressure that crying can reduce stress. “Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart attack, damage certain areas of the brain, contribute to digestive issues like ulcers, and cause tension headaches and migraines, among other health issues. Humans ability to cry has survival value,” Frey emphasizes. Since I gave up alcohol over a year ago, it’s been easier for me to cry and I have to say my blood pressure has never been better. I know this is anecdotal but any means to reduce your stress is important.

Relationships. It can help your relationships. This seems counter intuitive. How can crying help your relationships? As Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD wrote for WebMD, “Remember, the ability to feel comforted by others is wired into us from birth. So why not turn to it when you are struggling? Your loved ones can be a wonderful source of strength when you are feeling overwhelmed. They can help calm and comfort you, renewing your ability to think clearly and fully engage in life.” When I received some bad news a few weeks ago, my boyfriend Roy offered for me to cry on his shoulder. This is the first time in decades that someone offered for me to cry on their shoulder. It not only strengthened our relationship but it helped build trust. Crying can build relationships.

Through. Richie Norton said, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around it.” I can remember in my Neuroleadership Coaching training that most of us are just skimming through life and not actually allowing feeling. Coaching, therapy or just a close relationship, can set up a safe place to feel. It’s difficult to get past pain or fear without feeling it. We end up numbing out pain through food, alcohol and drugs instead of being in the moment of hurt. Think about labeling the feeling to really accept it. Like tightness in my throat, clenching in my belly and tears running down my face…this is what rejection feels like. Acknowledge your pain or fear. Label it. Understand what it is doing to your body and where you are feeling it. Go through it and not around. Crying does that for me.

It’s amazing that we all seem to try and hold back one of our bodies natural reactions to alleviate our pain. Crying is cathartic and helpful. Be present with it and let it happen.

My Dog. My Witness.

It has been a tumultuous year. I lived in limbo for seven months following Hurricane Matthew, rebuilt my home, saw my daughter move to the west coast, and some seven months ago, decided to stop numbing out with alcohol. There has been one constant through all of this: my beloved Brittany named Baci. I’ve written about Baci several times in the past but it’s not until you are truly tested that you realize the love of a dog, may be the secret to your success.

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I say success after all this tumult because I am so much better than I was a year ago. I am stronger. Wiser. Complete. Happy. I need to give credit where credit is due. It’s all because of a dog. The best dog I have ever owned. Of course, the Universe conspires when I need inspiration to write a post. Articles on the love of a pet and its health benefits started showing up in my feed this past week. This post on my dog is long overdue.

Here is how Baci has been my witness:

Social lubricant. If it’s the neighbor, the UPS driver, the HVAC guy or the tile setter, Baci is the social lubricant that brings it all together. Sometimes, it’s me allaying fears that she might be a biter (she’s not), or a question about her breed (Brittany), or getting up in someone’s business when they are repairing the house. Baci is the natural ease of social tension if a stranger is walking up to the door or a neighbor is walking their dog. People are naturally curious about Baci or any dog for that matter. She makes awkward interactions so much the better by just wagging her tail and soaking up the attention.

Alarm system. Baci sleeps most of the day. She is nine years old and kicks back most of the day at this point. I live in a larger, older home. There are noises. Unaccounted for noises. A creak here, a sigh there. I know that if it’s something to pay attention to, Baci will be on top of it. Her hearing is a lot better than mine. She can hear a garbage truck or the UPS driver from half a mile away. I know that if it’s something to be concerned about, Baci will let me know. If she is calmly sleeping and the ice maker dumps a load of ice cubes and she doesn’t react? It’s all OK. And she knows it’s her role.

Stress reducer.  As I write this, Baci is sleeping sweetly under a picture window. She looks so calm and relaxed. How could I possibly be uptight about doing my taxes today with such a relaxed dog in the room? As written by Kristen Strut for Huffington Post, “There’s a reason therapy dogs are so effective: Spending just a few minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in calm and well-being.” So Baci is my therapy dog and I get to have her everyday, all day.

Heart health. I don’t have high blood pressure. I have a family history of high blood pressure but somehow it’s missed me. Now I realize it’s probably Baci’s doing. As written on WebMD, “Heart attack patients who have pets survive longer than those without, according to several studies. Male pet owners have less signs of heart disease — lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels — than non-owners, researchers say.” Hmmm. The rest of my immediate family doesn’t own a pet. Baci is the secret to my heart health.

Unconditional love.  Baci does not care if my boss is mad at me or if I gained five pounds. She doesn’t care if I put too much lemon in the dish for dinner or if I binge watch Ozark all day. I frequently wake up at 4 AM. Baci doesn’t give a hoot if I wake up at 4 AM. She’s ready to go. No judgement. No admonishments. I am perfectly perfect as far as she is concerned. She even forgives me if I forget to fill the water dish or stash her toys for a few days. She loves me no matter what. And I love her.

Allergy fighter.  I am allergic to multiple things from aspirin to dust mites to various trees and grasses. I was on asthma medication for some fifteen years. I’ve had Baci for the last nine years. I am now off all asthma medication. I can’t say it’s Baci for sure but not having to take asthma medication is terrific. As written on WebMD, “A growing number of studies have suggested that kids growing up in a home with ‘furred animals’ — whether it’s a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals — will have less risk of allergies and asthma.” I realize this is anecdotal but this is the longest I have ever lived with an inside pet and now I am asthma free.

I have a reason to get home. A reason to get back safely from a trip. A reason to wake up. A reason to stay sober. A reason to get dressed and get to work. A reason to keep my house. A reason to be grateful. A reason to stay the course. Baci gives me purpose. She is there through thick and thin. She is my rock…yes, she is my witness.

Fretting. The Energy Drain.

Do you want to procrastinate?  Do you like to procrastinate?  Do want to come to a complete stop?  Start fretting?  Worry about the what ifs? Dwell on all the things that could happen?  Might happen? Could happen?  Should happen?  It sucks the life out of you.

I had a client recently gnashing her teeth because her child was going overseas for a month.  Her biggest issue was the not knowing.  How would they communicate?  What is Skype?  Where would he be living? So my question was, “how is all this worrying working for you?”  Well, it’s not.  It’s paralyzing, sleep depriving…a waste.  Fretting or not fretting will not change the outcome.

I’m not saying I don’t understand.  I have two teenage children who have been more than an 8 hour drive away for the last four weeks (one south and one north).  They are making their own decisions, their own plans and their own mistakes.  My worrying or lack of worrying won’t change the outcome.  But at least I sleep.   This has not always been my M.O. ( modus operandi).  It’s taken me years to back off the Ledge of Worry.

How to get to fret-less in 5 not so easy steps:

1. Decide.  You need to simply get on board or not.  If you really enjoy thinking of endless ways how your child, your parent or your spouse could be in a car accident.  If this is your fuel;  then join the fretters club.  But if you’re ready to do the mental dump and start living in the moment, then you need to make the commitment.  This can’t work unless you do.

2. Optimism. You will need to be optimistic.  This will be difficult for the glass-half-full-people out there.  What if everything is going to be better than expected?  Maybe the plane is getting in early.  Maybe your team will go to the NCAA finals.  Maybe the boss’s office  door is shut because they are working on your raise.  Everything is possible including the windfall, the referral and the next project.  Expect the best.

3. Turn it off.  The news that is.  I was just in Atlanta and my husband had the evening news on.  OMG.  Shootings.  Drownings.  Murder.  Car accidents.  My blood pressure went up.  My mind starts wandering down horrible trails.  What if that was my kid, friend, coworker? Nothing good can come from the news.  98% is sensationalized and depressing.  I’ve taken a clue from my daughter.  She gets caught in rain storms without an umbrella or in freezing temperatures with flip flops on.  She doesn’t watch the news or the weather.  She takes is as it comes. Why ruin the surprise?

4. Moment.  As in, Ya Gotta Live in the Moment.  This is the most difficult.  There is always a certain  amount of reflection and planning in life.  We just need to stop dwelling on embarrassments, back stabbing and finger pointing.  We need to quit anticipating the worst outcome.  So your friend has cancer.  Worrying for them is not going to help them.  Praying for them can.  Assuming they will be cured is a much more positive approach.  Being with them in the moment is a gift.

5. Alert.  Pay attention to your thoughts.  No one else will.  You need to be vigilant.  Pessimism has a way of seeping into our heads.  When you get caught in your fourth red light in a row, chill out.  It’s going to be fine.  Sometimes I fantasize that if I didn’t get caught at the red light I would have been some place three minutes earlier and caused a car accident.  This was meant to be.  Just make sure you’re staying in charge of those fretting thoughts.  You are your own sheriff.  Clean out the riff raff.

So the next time your spouse/partner is late, imagine that they’re picking up your favorite coffee or scoring a new project.  It will send out positive energy and you will sleep so much better.

What would you do?