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How to change your language to lower your stress

March 14, 2016

“I’m so stressed out!”

 

“I can’t handle all this stress.”

 

“If only I didn’t have all this stress, life would be better.”

 

“My _____ (kids, husband/wife, boss, employees, debt, weight, commute, insert what fits for you) stress/stresses me out so bad, I don’t know what to do!”

 

“Stop stressing me out!”

 

“If my stress levels go up any further, someone’s going to get hurt.”

 

“All this stress is killing me.”

 

Sound familiar, whether you’re the one saying it or hearing it from others, or both?

 

I’m going to make a simple suggestion:  

 

Do not use the word “stress”  anymore.  

 

Instead:

Use descriptive words to identify what you’re feeling and what is happening in this moment and in your life to create those feelings and circumstances.  By getting specific, you can slow down your thinking, get clear about how you feel, and make better choices about what to do, what you want or need to do, and how you want to feel.

 

“I’m so stressed out” might actually mean:

  • “I’m really tired.”  If this is the case, own that so you can do something about it.  What action can you take to get rest now or soon?  This might be eat less sugar (avoiding the sugar highs and lows), or go to bed 30 minutes earlier, or get better window coverings that block light and sound better, or stop caffeine for the day so you can fall asleep better later, or stop using electronics an hour before bed to help improve your sleep, or all of the above. 
  • “I can’t say no and now I’m overcommitted and can’t get anything done or done well.”  We do this sometimes for fear of letting someone down, fear of disapproval, FOMO (fear of missing out), fear of being perceived as incompetent or not capable of more responsibility, and a host of other fears. Own that, too.  Examine requests more carefully and don’t feel pressure to make a decision on the spot.  Look at how you plan your day, get in the habit of adding more time for each task, and add that into your calendar.  We are often “time optimists,” not being realistic about how long something will take us.  Getting real in this way will help us see we really don’t have time to add anything else to the day.  
  • “I don’t like the things I’m doing and I’m frustrated because I’m in this dead-end job.”  Getting clear like this helps you decide what you need to do in the short and long term.
  • “I don’t know what to do first/next.”  This is honest.  This is an opportunity to pause, take a few breaths, write down all the tasks, talk to collaborators or staff or managers, and determine what’s most urgent, important, or neither, and decide what to do, what must be done if anything, in the time you have. 

“I can’t handle all this stress”:  

  • Get a piece of paper or use your computer/tablet, remove the word stress and write down, “I can’t handle” and then write down one thing you’re faced with doing.  Then write it down again, and add another thing from your list.  And repeat, until you’ve written down everything on your mind or in your various to-do lists.  
  • Then write “I feel” and write down one word or a few words at most to describe the emotions and physical sensations you’re feeling.  Write it again, and do the same, and keep going until you’ve identified all the emotional and physical sensations you’re experiencing.  That could look something like this:
    • I feel sick to my stomach.
    • I feel scared.
    • I feel tense.
    • I feel incompetent.
    • I feel light-headed.
    • I feel frustrated.
    • I feel angry.
    • I feel useless.

Identifying how we feel will allow us to further think about our situation and make clear choices about what to do.  It will also reconnect us to our bodies to give us the opportunity to do something to make us feel better right now:  Drink fresh water, stretch, go for a walk, eat something nourishing if it’s been several hours since we last ate, do some deep breathing, get some fresh air.  Taking a pause, a break, and taking care of our physical self often is exactly what we need.

 

“If only I didn’t have all this stress, life would be better.”  

  • Remove the words “all this stress” and list out specifically what is upsetting you or difficult or too much - identify at a granular level what is happening in your life.  
  • Make a list of how you want your life to feel, what a “better life” would look and feel like.  By visualizing and getting specific about how we want our lives to be and look, we have a much better chance of achieving it.  
  • Get even more specific and do write about the next hour only:  How do I want to feel, what would I like to do, what absolutely needs to be done, what can wait, just for the next hour.  Chances are good you will feel better after that hour which will then help you move forward with the rest.

“My kids, husband/wife, boss, deadlines, employees, debt, weight, commute, insert what fits for you stress/stresses me out so bad, I don’t know what to do!”

  • Same as above, break it down thing by thing, person by person, and remove the word stress in each sentence to get very specific about what is happening with you so you can make informed choices, prioritize, let some things go, decide how you want to feel, and what to do in the next five minutes, hour, day, week, month, however far out you want to look.
    • By examining your commute, there may be one small change that starts the day off better for you.  
    • By identifying what specifically frustrates you about a work task, you can problem solve and shift one thing to make an improvement in how it flows for you.
    • By getting honest about why you are feeling irritated by something your spouse/friend/child/coworker has said or done, you can speak with them about it directly (and I’ll add kindly, just because) to resolve it together.  

“Stop stressing me out!”  If this is something you have said, or say to someone with any regularity, it’s time to de-escalate it, get specific, state your feelings and make your request appropriately.  What might be more effective:

  • “I am feeling pressured and anxious, and need to talk about this situation.”
  • “I need to talk about all the things on my list and my feeling that I’m overextended and don’t know how to prioritize it all.”
  • “All these expectations are weighing on me, and I’m feeling immobilized by it all, like I can’t do anything well or on time.”
  • “I need to take a deep breath for a moment as I’m angry and I don’t want to say something to make it worse.”
  • “I’m at my limit and feeling like my head is in a vice grip right now.  I need a little break.  What can we do to make things better.”

“If my stress level goes up any further, someone’s going to get hurt.”  I admit a real bias against violent language like this.  Making a threatening statement only raises tension levels for everyone - don’t do it.  It’s inappropriate to make anyone feel unsafe; saying you’re “just kidding” afterward only adds insult to injury.  I know my position isn’t popular as this type of language is all over our culture and makes people feel powerful, and it’s not likely to stop anytime soon; it gets laughs and sells movies and products.  If you are feeling angry about your current situation to the point of acting out on it physically, find an appropriate outlet that provides release without the chance of anyone being impacted.  If you truly don’t mean to hurt anyone, which I do believe is the vast majority of people, own it, vent in a way that is specific and respectful of those listening for no more than 90 seconds.  After 90 seconds, switch to problem solving and prioritizing so you feel more settled and less pressured.   

 

“All this stress is killing me.”  That might be true.  By not taking care of the things in our lives that do literally strain our bodies, minds, and emotions, our health does go down, and diseases can begin.  

  • Begin by identifying what is going on. This is a bigger deconstruction.  Take another piece of paper and
    • List out everything you’re lumping under the word “all.”  
    • Take out the words “this stress” and get specific with a list of the things in life you are doing or “have to do” or “should do” or however you are characterizing it, so you can determine next steps, what can be let of go of, get the full picture of your life.
    • Substitute “killing me” with what you’re feeling and thinking, and afraid of.
    • Your list may look like this:  
      • “I’m feeling the pressure of my credit card debt and my throat is tight and I feel like I can’t breathe.”  
      • “My family is expecting me to be in three places at once and I am afraid of disappointing them and feeling frantic to come up with solutions for A, B, and C. It feels like I have big knots in my stomach.”
      • “I’m not feeling ready for the exam and I’m feeling stupid and hopeless and that all the time I’ve studied has been useless.”

As you list everything out separately, it creates space for you to look at things, to have room for ideas to come to you to troubleshoot or realize your misperceptions, and find a way to deal with each thing one at a time.  

  • No one can deal with everything in life all at one time to make it “all” better.  Making one change, letting go of one thing, deciding what one thing to do next, is often enough to take the edge off the pressure, and usually leads us to better management of each thing in that big “all.”  

Write the word STRESS on a few pieces of paper and put a big X across each one.  Put them at work and in various places in your home as a reminder not to use that word, to take a breath, and to take a few moments to get specific about what you’re thinking and feeling right then.  

 

Acknowledge and own what you are thinking and feeling as a way to use your energy, time and resources more effectively.  Help people understand what’s happening with you by being clear, descriptive and appropriate with your feelings; it helps you the most, but actually helps build better relationships, too.  This is respectful to them - and also to yourself and everything you have going on in your life.  

 

Our language (inside voice and outside voice) impacts every moment, and has a direct effect on how we feel and how we take action, and, the results we get day in and day out which ultimately creates our overall quality of life and health.

 

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As a life coach, I help people numerous ways, and stress reduction almost always is on the list.  My offer to you:  please click here to set up a no-cost 30-minute session. We'll look at your situation, help you clarify what you need and want to be different in your life, and if I can be of assistance with those efforts.  If you have general questions about coaching or my other offerings, please contact me at your convenience.  Now, take 3 deep breaths... 



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