Change is a part of life. The best leaders prepare for change. They study it, train for it, and are ready to embrace it when it comes. We have all experienced many changes especially over this past year. Some change you may have initiated on our own, a new purchase or a home renovation project. But it is highly likely you also encountered change that was thrust upon you, travel restrictions or remote work. As we continue to adjust our lives and behaviors in response to change, it’s helpful to examine our attitudes toward change and how they shape our responses.
It is important to look at the impact of stress. Stress is basically how our body responds to any type of challenge. We tend to think of stress in terms of the limbic system in the brain— the fight, flight, or freeze response. Our perspective of stress and our own unique reactions to stress impact our ability to positively navigate change. How can we respond to stress and we reframe our stress into a motivator?
In the TED Talk “How to Make Stress Your Friend,” Kelly McGonigal asks the question, “What if you viewed the signs of stress: heart pounding your breathing quickening and your forehead sweating, that your body is preparing you to meet challenges instead of as alerts?” She says her aim is, “No longer get rid of stress but to help people get better at stress.” She believes that changing how you think about stress can make you healthier and believes that science backs this up. She cites various studies to prove her point. In one study, participants were coached to view their stress responses as helpful— the pounding heart is preparing you for action and breathing faster is getting more oxygen to your brain. Interestingly, these participants were less anxious, less stressed, and more confident. When monitored, their physical responses didn’t change like you would normally expect, the heart was still pounding but the vessels stayed relaxed. How you think about stress matters.
How do you view stress in your life? Do you see physical signs as positive or negative? Do you seek out support from others when dealing with stress?
Another study showed that for every major stressful life event a person encountered the risk of dying increased by 30% BUT that wasn’t true for everyone. People who spent time helping or caring for others showed NO stress related increase in dying.
Caring for others created resilience. The harmful effects of stress are not inevitable. Your stress response has a built in mechanism for stress resilience— human connection.
NEEDS & STRESS BEHAVIORS
When our needs are not met we tend to fall into unique, individual stress behaviors. Gaining awareness of these behaviors can clue us into unmet needs. Conversely, making sure needs are met can stave off stress behaviors. Our awareness of needs is often most prevalent when those needs go unmet. Think of it this way, in our normal day to day lives when we are comfortable with circumstances and situations, we are relatively unaware of needs because those innate needs are being satisfied.
I regularly have time by myself, in a peaceful, quiet environment to work. During the pandemic shutdown in a matter of days my entire family was at home. Two teenagers and a college student doing distance learning and my husband working remotely, all of them requiring meals, clean clothes, and their own space! My need for time alone was drastically impeded and I felt it. Awareness of my need helped me communicate and prioritize time alone.
Take a moment to reflect on your own needs. Have you experienced an unmet need that caused you to strongly react? What needs can you identify that have the potential to trigger an unproductive, reactionary behavior?
HIGH-INTEREST, ENERGIZING ACTIVITIES
Finally, one of the tools I always want my clients to be actively cultivating is a high-interest, energizing activity list. This is a list of at least 10 things that are energizing to them, things that fill them up. Much of what we deal with in life is about “energy-in and energy-out.” These activities are effective to use in calendaring, when you know that you are going to have to do something that is really draining, like giving a presentation or working on an expense report. Scheduling time either leading up to a scheduled event or following can be a powerful tool to re-energize. It’s also useful when life happens. We all know that stressful situations are going to happen and having a list of reminders like this can be a positive tool to help us deal with stress. And it’s amazing to me how in the busyness of life I can forget the activities that are truly life giving to me. How many times I’ve done something and thought, “I love doing this!” “I really should do this more!” This is the place to help keep those things in front of you. High-interest, energizing activities can be very beneficial in addressing needs because most often our top interests directly link to our needs. These activities are positive and satisfying and help fuel our level of energy and enjoyment.
Change is inevitable but your attitude and perspective is not. You can choose how you view challenges, change, and stress. Engage others for support in handling stress and offer support as well. Awareness is key and putting it into practice can be life-changing. Continue to embrace positive responses and navigate change successfully.