Stress: Does It Have You or Do You Have It?
Lead Coach and Facilitator at Choose Leadership | Working with Purpose Driven Leaders and Organisations

According to Stephen Palmer, you are stressed when you perceive that the pressure you are experiencing exceeds your ability to cope. This is different for different people, but there are commonalities: The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale shows the weighting of life events and the relative pressure that they are said to create.

But as Regina illustrated in last week’s blog, uncertainty and ambiguity in our lives can also lead to persistent anxiety, in other words, to an underlying stress below the surface.

And the interventions that she shared are powerful and necessary, because we live in a world where anxiety causing events are common place.

Imagine our house when the router resets unexpectedly during a training session. You’d hear an air raid siren sounding and see red lights flashing. I’m standing on a desk, wearing aviator glasses and a white scarf, shouting ‘Scramble the fighters! No time to lose.’

But does every ‘router-down’ situation need to induce panic and stress? No, because we are not only equipped to deal with stress, but we are also able to increase our capacity to cope with external stress producing experiences. What this means is that rather than changing the external event, we can change our relationship to it.

This can take many forms. For instance, we can reframe the meaning of the event (e.g, reframing feedback from “criticism” to “constructive direction for improvement”). Or we can de-personalise an experience (e.g. reframing from “they are angry at me” to “they are angry”). This shift of perspective is what the leadership researcher Jennifer Garvey Berger refers to as moving from subject to object.

This means moving from concepts of self and the world that we are attached to (e.g. assumptions, world views, emotions, behavioural patterns, triggers) to a place where we can detach ourself from our idea of our Self. This allows us to reflect on what is happening instead of experiencing the world from a perspective of what is happening to us.

In short it means moving from a perspective where something has us (they made me shout at them) to us having it (e.g. noticing that something is irritating me or causing fear or frustration.) It is the shift from being a victim of what happens around you to being the active agent in your life who chooses their response to the world around them.

In our organisations and communities, the practical need is for leaders to shift from reacting to the things to which they are subject, to responding from a place of choice to the things which happen in their external environment.

This requires inner work. Inner work is the starting point for all successful leaders.

Don’t just focus on managing your stress. Focus on minimising the things that cause you stress.

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