Dealing with Bad Stress

As a woman who has transitioned from a career as an Air Traffic Controller to running my own business, I have experienced my fair share of stress along the way. Luckily for me the majority of the stress in both cases has been eustress.

Not all Stress is Bad Stress

Eustress is the type of ‘positive’ stress that keeps us vital and excited about life; a roller-coaster ride, a fast paced movie or in my case making sure aircraft landed and departed from Southampton airport, as efficiently as possible, are all examples of eustress.

However it wasn’t always positive stress, there were many times when I would be stuck in traffic due to an accident on the M27 and my hour long commute would turn into 2 or 3 hour ordeal. Knowing I would be late for work or worse still, late to pick up my son from nursery would cause me to feel stressed, even though it was beyond my control.

I also experienced stress when I realized that I wanted to leave Air Traffic to become a coach for women, particularly working mums. I felt trapped and resentful that I had to continue to do a job that I was competent at, when my heart longed to be doing something else. Guy Hendricks author of The Big Leap explains the feeling perfectly, when he said, he was ‘rusting from the inside out’

Bad Stress can become Chronic Stress

Unfortunately far too many women in the workplace are experiencing this negative stress known as chronic stress. Chronic stress is a prolonged and constant feeling of stress that can negatively affect your health if it goes untreated. It can be caused by a high-pressure job or even high levels of boredom, or by any prolonged stressful situation such as ongoing financial difficulties or relationship issues. Even something as mundane as a tedious or noisy commute everyday could contribute to chronic stress.

So how would you know if you had chronic stress? Some of the symptoms might include problems with digestion, sleeping or depression, however this is the nub of the problem as, with many situations, we adapt and accept. If something is causing us stress, like the hideously cramped commute on the underground each morning or the ridiculously long hours we find ourselves working, we might feel outraged in the beginning. But sooner or later we learn to live with it.

Accepting the situation feels disempowering, so in order to cope with these feelings, we look for ways to numb the (mental/emotional) pain. These can include eating sugary food and carbs, drinking alcohol to feel better, zoning out in front of the TV or in my case playing Spider solitaire on my iphone. I was trying to ignore the fact that I was no longer enjoying my job but by keeping my mind occupied I avoided asking or answering any difficult questions.

Top 5 Stress Busters for dealing with Bad Stress

1.If your stress is manifesting in feelings of anxiousness, overwhelm or frustration the quickest remedy is to practice breathing exercises. These can be as simple as counting to 10 as you take a breath, to create a pattern interrupt. Or taking 5 minutes to focus on your breathing, allowing your lungs to expand and your belly to extend as you breathe slowly and rhythmically.

2.Getting outside in the fresh air is a great way to gain a new perspective on your situation. If you can take yourself out of your immediate environment e.g. your office, into a larger space it will allow you to think more broadly.

3.Exercise is a fabulous way to release ‘feel good’ endorphins into your body, which are an excellent alternative to the energy rush from sugar and carbs. Exercising outside is a double win.

4.Practise an Attitude of Gratitude. Being grateful can turn many a negative, into a positive. e.g. being thankful that there is transport to get you to work, however cramped, can shift your perspective and make you appreciate things you previously disliked.

5.Ask good questions. It is so easy to ask bad questions like ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ The trouble is, that our brain is super efficient and finding answers and if you ask lousy questions you’ll get lousy answers. Take control of your internal chatter and ask questions that demand a solution ‘How could I make this commute more enjoyable?’ ‘Is there another way for me to get to work?’ You will be amazed at how creative you can be, when you ask great questions.

These are all good ways to deal with stress, however it is important that we don’t forget that the stress we feel is a telling reflection of how our body and mind is experiencing life. For me, the long commute, the traffic, being in a job I no longer loved and not doing the job I craved, eventually led me to take action and change my circumstances.

Unsurprisingly, I find that I am now eating less chocolate and no longer have the desire to play Solitaire!

Guest Blog by Emily Thorpe founder of Happy Working Mum passionate about giving women the tools to eliminate stress and overwhelm and make their lives balanced and fulfilled. Author, speaker and coach.

Photo Credit: Phatic-Photography/Shutterstock

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