Life Is Stress-Free Under Your Christmas Tree

It’s the holiday season and for some of us it might be difficult to fit present-buying and tree-decorating routines into our busy schedules. If we add travel arrangements, greeting cards, and holiday food preparations, it might feel like we’ve put too much on our plates. This is the time when our subtle and tenacious little companion might start creeping up on us. Stress.

Stress is both our reaction to potentially threatening stimuli and an obstacle to meeting goals and finding satisfaction. But, aren’t we in charge of ourselves – our bodies and our minds? If so, is stress something we do to ourselves?

Focusing on the present moment is the key to replacing tension with clarity because it’s so easy to get stuck when you are stressed. Your thoughts and actions become obsessive and you feel you need a break. But let’s say you don’t have time for a true break.  The more effective, stress-relieving strategy may be to turn to something else on your to-do list (like organizing your desk) or, actually to take tasks off your to-do list.  Ask yourself, what do I need to do right now to enjoy the holidays? After all, isn’t being (relatively) rested and being in a good mood more important than getting everything done?

The bottom line is that you don’t need to be perfect and you don’t need to do everything others are doing. Those around you would appreciate you more if you’re healthy, energized and focused. So just be yourself and enjoy your holidays!

Thanksgiving: Less Stress; More Fun!

How to Make Sure Everyone “Wins” Even When the Turkey Burns

Thanksgiving is that time of the year when benevolent intentions can turn into arguments and an abundance of dishes can be overwhelming to prepare (and wash!). It might be especially stressful for the hosts of large families, or any family with very different views and opinions. The idea, however, is to remember that we celebrate Thanksgiving, well, for giving thanks, not headaches. So focus on having fun and enjoying each other!

A trick for dealing with any of your potential Thanksgiving stresses is sensing your own and others’ feelings and needs. That means not assigning blame, guilt, or obligation to yourself or others (and yes, this is true even if your grandfather tends to bring up the most controversial topics at the table!). If you focus on enjoying yourself and appreciating others, you, likely, won’t experience anger or frustration. The point is to listen for what’s important – how much the host cares that dinner is enjoyed and enjoyable  – not for inevitable noise. If you can do this, you’re on the right track towards establishing a Win-Win Mindset!

So let’s say your son brought his fiancé to your house for the first Thanksgiving and the turkey does burn.  If you’ve got a win-lose mindset, you might

Blame yourself: “I should have done more. I should have prepared better.” or

Blame your son: “I’ve been trying, why doesn’t he save his criticism for later? He’s unthankful, that’s for sure!”

OR, you could adopt a Win-Win mindset and choose to respond:

By being aware of own feeling and needs: “When I hear what he’s saying now I feel irritated because I want some appreciation and understanding for the fact that the turkey did not cook quite right. We just moved and I’m using the oven for the first time.”

By being aware of others’ feeling and needs: “I’m guessing he is frustrated because this is the first Thanksgiving dinner he’s brought his fiancé to and he probably thinks it’s not going as he had planned.”

So tune yourself into the Win-Win Mindset and enjoy your holidays!

Do You Need More Time To Yourself?

There are many personality assessments out there and many of you have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. If you did, you may recall that there are 16 different Types (I wrote more on Type here.) Type is at the top of my list for personal and professional development because it provides so much actionable insight. An interesting aspect of Type is that each Type has specific stress triggers and remedies – ways of getting back into balance. I say “balance” because the remedies often involve strategically balancing the right amount of time introverting and extraverting. In our busy world of back-to-back meetings and calls, a person typically needs more time to him or herself.

Much of my work with clients helps them identify stressful situations, then anticipate when they will experience these situations so that they can adopt strategies for avoiding performance-derailing stress or being “off balance.” For example, some clients need a little extra planning to be “on” when needed, while others need to start a day with intense Introversion in order to get through a day of Extraversion. The act of planning both requires Introversion and grounds them.

It’s not only Introverts who need time to themselves. The busy executives and lawyers I work with need time to reflect, even if they prefer Extraversion. The whammy of being an Extravert is that we often avoid reflective time because we don’t like it or it feels like a waste of time. If Extraverts don’t reflect sufficiently, however, they can be ineffective. They either become overwhelmed, which impairs their ability to prioritize, or they become judgmental and dismissive, which prevents them from considering new information. It’s all about each person achieving the right balance for him or herself.

Conquering Stress

Stress is a subtle and tenacious obstacle to meeting goals and finding satisfaction, even when we’re fully prepared to succeed otherwise. Interestingly, our perspective or “self-talk” can greatly affect how we experience stress, which is why it’s important to consciously choose to deal with a problem rather than letting it overwhelm us. (I wrote more on our choices to resolve conflicts by being aware of others here.)

Stress often feels like something that is done to us, but, in fact, we’re our bodies and minds and stress is something we do. The good news is that we can minimize its effects if we choose to respond deliberately rather than react with those habitual fight-or-flight instincts. The shift is subtle, yet transformative. So how can we “conquer” the stress? Here is how: be present, shift gears and face the issue.

If you’ve raised a child or trained a puppy, you know that a brief removal of stimulus can create calm and help manage behavior that is spiraling out of control. It’s the same with adults, except that “acting out” is internalized as well as manifested externally as poor behavior. Being present  – that is, focusing on the stressful moment as it occurs – interrupts the flow of stress.

Also, what helps me, personally, is finding a fresh perspective leading to new insights. This even sounds refreshing! Shifting gears or trying to imagine new solutions or just changing tasks (go for a run!) keeps me from obsessing over an issue.

And, lastly, you know, just don’t let stress overtake you. Find 20 seconds of courage and deal with that stressful issue you’re worrying about. Get your stress under control or it will control you!