As this month’s topic in the “Your New Normal” Series is reducing stress, I’ve prepared some posts that delve into this unsettling emotion to try and work out how we really can “stress less”.
Let’s start with something I have termed (in my professional opinion), “different situation stress”, or in layman’s terms – “cranky wife syndrome”.
What on earth am I talking about? Well let me explain.
Different Levels of Psycho-ness
As some background, if you don’t know me I’m what you could call a bit of a “worrier”. I tend to overanalyse and overthink most situations and this sometimes results in little moments of craziness when the stress bubbles out of my brain.
The thing I have been wondering about, is why is it that these outbursts feel uncontrollable – yet the nature of the outburst (i.e. the psycho-ness) is different in different environments?
Why is it when I was working in a high pressure role, that I could have constant phone calls, emails, interruptions and have a tonne of things to do but remain (outwardly!) calm and in control and not get flustered.
But then be packing the car for a four-day HOLIDAY and lose it over why packing was taking so long and feel incredibly anxious about not leaving at 11am on the dot. Because, like, that was the plan I made in my head and we have deviated from it. It was a good, well thought out plan, that revolved around baby sleep and snack times, check in times and the time I felt we should be relaxing by. What the…
As I am clearly out of my league here, I have called in the experts. I asked a few questions of my lovely friend Dr Sasha from the very funny (and informative!) blog From The Left Field.
She very kindly explains why this happens…
Stress in Different Contexts
- Is it true we handle stress differently in different circumstances?
Absolutely! Situational stress is alive and well. I think when it comes to managing work stress vs home stress, it’s about the different roles we play. At work we have a role, as a professional in a set capacity. To a degree we can control and manage what goes on around us, we have the clear boundaries of our job description. And there’s usually a distinct hierarchy we follow, complete with protocols and back-ups.
At home though, well our co-workers like to be a little less predictable. We don’t have the same protocols, things are more variable. And there’s a lot more emotion running around! At work we can tend to manage our emotions, because we have to. Home is our safe place, where we can let everything out. And sometimes we keep pent up stress from work, and unleash it at home. Because we can. We can’t get fired from our family!
- Then is how we handle stress not actually a “natural” reaction – i.e. I thought how we react is just the way we have learnt to over time…but is it actually something we can learn?
The way we manage stress is usually due to a combination of nature and nurture. So a little bit of our inbuilt wiring and a little bit of what’s gone on in the environment around us. We may be a little more vulnerable to stress, but then if we’ve grown up seeing that the way to cope with stress is to freak out, then that’s what we’re going to do to. Conversely if we’ve grown up in very intense and stressful environments, that’s going to rub off on us. It is definitely something we can learn, but oftentimes it is coloured by the vulnerabilities that are inherent in us.
I’ve explained it previously as a cup of milo. Those with a genetic predisposition will have an extra scoop of milo in their cup. When you then fill the cup with life experiences (the milk), those with the extra scoop of milo will overflow, whereas those with the standard one teaspoon of milo will just rise to the top.
- Is there any easy way to re-learn how to respond when under pressure in all circumstances? As I’m guessing my reaction to the car not being packed is a little irrational…
There is absolutely ways to re-learn how to respond under pressure, as for it being easy, that depends on the person really. But there’s nothing we can’t fix! Well, almost :). It’s helpful to think of ourselves of being the result of our body, mind and actions all bouncing off each other. So when we want to manage our stress better, we need to focus on each of these three areas. Learning to calm the body down, recognising stress cues that occur in us physiologically before we lose our cool. When we can slow the body down, then the mind can slow also and work at a more rational pace. Challenging our stressful thoughts is key. Because it’s not the situation that makes you feel a certain way, it’s how you think about the situation. So for example, not having the car packed in time to leave for holidays isn’t the cause of the stress, it’s the thoughts “why is nothing organised??” “Do I have to do everything around here?” “For once, can’t something just run smoothly!” I’m guessing that those kind of themes might have been the theme of the pre-holiday stress. As for being irrational, no way! I don’t know of any Mother that hasn’t gone berko trying to make a holiday happen!! Once you’ve got your body calm, and you’ve challenged the thoughts cropping up in your mind, the next step is to take action. Use problem solving, open communication, decision making, goal setting. All things that can help you feel more on track and reduce stress levels.
So is there hope for me?
Thanks so much Sasha…. so there is hope for me yet. I’m not sure how she got to be inside my head during my pre-holiday freak-out, but I’m glad she was!
It’s so true that whenever I get that way I’m expressing some annoyance at something else unrelated. I think it’s also important to not set expectations of how everything is going to go and try and be more at ease with whatever happens.
I’m finding my new morning ritual of being present before anything else helps me remain calm for the rest of the day – so that’s definitely a positive. And I’m taking Sasha’s advice and trying to slow my body down and think before I blab. I said trying, I’m trying.
Do you find yourself reacting differently in different environments?
Most importantly, have you had a pre holiday melt down?
Don’t forget to check out Sasha’s blog…I’ve kindly linked here to a very amusing post of hers.