Where is your stress coming from and what is the impact on you? A piece on systematic stress management

Stress is a really interesting topic to me as I consider the hugely challenging circumstances currently being experienced all over the world during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The aim of this blogpost isn’t to give you 10 top tips to short-term stress relief. As it’s mental health awareness week, you will find this kind of material in every other post you scroll through. Rather, the point of this post is to give you a deeper physiological understanding of stress, and to point you in the right direction in implementing long-term changes so that you are in a better position to manage stress for the long haul. I’m coming at this as someone who treats bodily stress through massage therapy, and as a life, career and wellbeing coach whose clients are coping with various stressors (more about what this is later). I would also really like to thank Jaromir Myslivecek from the Institute of Physiology of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic for his research into this topic. His article The Basis of the Stress Reaction has provided the main scientific foundation for this blogpost.

 

What is stress, from a physiological point of view?

Understanding what stress is helps us to navigate it, deal with it, give it its right place in our lives. So what is stress? There are many definitions for stress, as Myslivecek alludes to. In his view, ‘stress is the body’s response to strain (inner or outer). This response is characterised by stress response elements that could have both positive/beneficial impact (eustress) or a negative/detrimental impact (distress) on the body’. I will pick up on this more because human beings (as with all living creatures) have been designed to cope with stress. Myslivecek describes stress as ‘the body’s response to strain (inner or outer). It is not a nervous tension, as it can occur in lower animals and even in plants, which have no nervous system. Stress is not a reaction to a specific thing. It should be considered a reaction that helps the organism cope with different situations and, therefore, stress cannot and should not be avoided.’

Let’s look briefly into human histology – bone ossification (growth) in particular, since it will explore Myslivecek’s point more. Our bones grow under enormous stress. Is it necessary? Yes, it is – as the pressure is part of the process of the strengthening of bone tissue. Our bones never stop growing since bone cells in the body continue to reproduce to replace those that die. Broken bones knit together and heal by growth. As we get older, our bones are still renewing, but the rate of deterioration of cells in the bone may be faster than the renewal process. This kind of stress is eustress.

So… our bodies were designed and built to handle eustress. From the moment we were conceived, our bodies have remained in some form of eustress – the stress of growing. They will continue to handle growth stresses until the moment we take our last breath. Where we are physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically distressed for prolonged periods of time – well, this is something that our bodies are not naturally designed or built for.

We can think about it this way: Eustress leads to positive outcomes and impacts, in so far as the end goal is not a negative one, or does not transform into a distress. Distress leads to negative outcomes and impacts. In BOTH of these, we will find: STRESS. This is enough overview with which to begin from. I welcome medical experts to comment or even correct me if needed.

 

Is it manageable?

Stress is an overused word these days, and I believe that is partly because of a genuine lack of understanding of the two different types of stresses, and how we ought to relate to them. Stress can also increase or decrease to different degrees as well. It’s very easy to believe that our stress is one thing, but it is actually another. There is quite a lot of chaos and confusion if the stress is distressful or if the stress is chronic (no longer manageable). Only eustress will recollect you, bring you some peace, order and direction in the context of stress itself. Stress is manageable, and even when you think you’ve lost all control, not all hope is lost.

To navigate through the stress, to put together your action plan for managing it, and to see the light at the end of the tunnel,  two of the most important things to look at are the cause of the stresses, and the impact the stress is having on you.

 

How can the cause (aka the stressor) be identified?

‘Stressors can influence the organism acutely (acute/single stress) or chronically (chronic/repeated/long-lasting stress)’ says Myslivecek. ‘The repeated influence of a stressor can have great significance in the context of allostasis, which is defined as the ability to maintain stability through change’. As a change management practitioner, you can imagine my delight in the science of this statement… but that’s a topic for another day!

400x400 8 Wellbeing KeysTo determine the cause of the stress (the stressor / the stimulus / the trigger), I run a wellbeing self-assessment with my clients. This report is an analysis of the eight wellbeing keys to the right. I help my clients come to crystal clarity on what their stressors are, so that the root can either be nourished or dug up. Nourished when the stressor leads to eustress. Dug up (I’m sorry, this is usually quite a painful process) when the stressor leads to distress. Although Myslivecek says that ‘in humans, the majority of stressors are psychological and social’, the other areas of wellbeing could be greatly impacted. So I offer this assessment as part of a wellbeing coaching package, OR people are welcome to simply complete a questionnaire then purchase their unique report from me for only £19.95 to see their results.

You can take your wellbeing self-assessment here: http://bit.ly/ToC-WSA.

You could also complete this explorative task on your own and without any aid. All you need to do is look at each wellbeing key, and write down what is discomforting, not quite at right balance, stress-invoking or is unsatisfactory to you in your life.

Here’s an example exploring the social key: a) Tension in the relationship between my boss and myself. b) My kids are complaining that I am not spending enough time with them. c) At the moment I feel like I have so few friends. d) Business networking gives me the sweats. Which ones are distressful? Which ones are a form of eustress? Which ones are acute and which ones are chronic? What degree of importance on a scale of 1-10 do you give them (1 being low and 10 being high)?

Then repeat this process for the other 7 wellbeing keys, and see what comes up for you.

 

How can the impact of that stress be measured? Indeed, what is the impact of all that stress?

Taking the wellbeing self-assessment is only part one of this stress-identification journey. The second part of the journey is nailing down the exact impact the stress is having on you. For example, you may be distressed by your next door neighbour who is repeatedly playing their music on full blast until 5am keeping you awake. Not only is the outcome of physical tiredness going to have an impact on you, but you could also be greatly impacted by short-temperedness in your family relationships, or an unkept living environment, or poor performance in your workplace. To help clients determine this, I give my clients a Stress Impact Assessment (again, based on the above wellbeing keys) to complete.

A comprehensive Stress Impact Assessment is a part of my wellbeing coaching package, OR people are welcome to attend one of my Radical Self-Care Workshops to go through a mini version (4 wellbeing keys) of this Stress Impact Assessment. You’ll find all my upcoming workshops on Radical Self-Care on my Eventbrite channel.

If you wanted to assess the impacts of your stress without my aid, you could draw a 3 columned table. The first column contains your stressor. The second column contains at least 1 (but likely to be multiple) outcomes of the stressor. The third column contains the impact. This is a very important piece of work, because this will actually help you determine which stresses need addressing.

Once you understand your stressors and the impacts of that stress, you can really begin to map out a plan for stress management. Otherwise, you’re just trialling and erring without really understanding your fight-fright-flight capacities. You could be throwing away a lot of money for something that you stumble onto by accident. Approaching your stress management systematically will help combat the chaos that comes with negative stress.

 

Why work with a Wellbeing Coach

Wellbeing coaches who have a good overall knowledge of the body (I would recommend level 3 qualifications in bodywork as a minimum since they show some level of competency in the hormonal and nervous systems). They will also have a greater understanding of healthy eating, psychology, in fact –  a good holistic understanding of all 8 wellbeing keys altogether. Such a coach would be in a good position to support you in managing your stress. They can also help you in your stress prevention strategy. They:

  • Take into account your physical wellbeing, through understanding and analysis of symptoms showing up as outcomes resulting from chronic stress or distress.
  • Will help you look at your life as a whole, as no one area of your life can be isolated unto itself.
  • Work with you to implement stress management strategy – forming action plans to prevention systems.
  • Look at your dietary intake, and can recommend dietary plans (but not subscribe vitamins or supplements unless they are a registered nutritionist).
  • Go through, in overview style, your financial as well as your environmental and occupational situations.
  • Recommend physical exercises and signpost you to helpful resources.
  • Think outside the box to help you with your career progression and development, without losing or selling your soul!

 

Of course, there is so much more that could be said about this topic, even from a physiological perspective – but I hope I have achieved what I set out to according to the second paragraph. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the above material, or would like to embark on a bespoke 3 month wellbeing coaching programme with me. I offer a free 30 minute consultation call.

 


I’m preparing to open up a 1 year Career & Wellbeing programme to 6 keen hi-potential job hunters or career chasers to escalate their performance as individuals, and to work as a team to achieve their unique life & career visions. Do you want to be someone who receives unlimited access and support from me, who will be championing you throughout your journey of growth and self-actualisation?

 

5 things you need to know when exploring career options & development

Exploring career options often brings up the question ‘Where do I begin?’. It can be quite a challenging practical reality for many people under normal circumstances, but in these times, the pressure might be felt more.

It’s tough out there right now. I know. Don’t lose heart, and make sure you have your bases and foundations with which to build on firmly established.

If you’re someone exploring your career options, these 5 things are going to really help you get started. Together they form something called your CAREER PERSONALITY, and is pretty much just your ‘Career-oriented Self-Awareness‘.

 

Why do you need to know these 5 things?

Well, your career personality is essentially the picture of yourself that will not only guide your decision-making, but is also a major part of the ‘package’ (that is you as the unique and wonderful human being that you are) that your prospective employers, colleagues, co-workers will be receiving into their workplace and work lives. It is a holistic picture, that only you can paint, since it is borne out of your own self-awareness and self-knowledge.

 

1. Your Career Interests

Knowing your Career Interests can serve multiple functions. It can help you to:

  • Know which industries and/or sectors would be best suited to you
  • Get a feel for which occupations you might be a good fit for
  • Prioritise where and how you focus your job search
  • Differentiate you from potential competition
  • Explore out-of-the-box ideas
  • Foster hope and happiness in you

There are various ways that this can be explored. My clients receive my Career Discovery workbook. There are also a few career interests inventories out there – the Strong Interests inventory being one of the most powerful. One of the most fun inventories that I have found is the free app Game of Choices. I can’t really vouch for its accuracy, but some of my clients have enjoyed the fun of it, which can reduce the intensity of career exploration.

2. Your Career Personality Traits

It’s fairly common knowledge that in the workplace, we can adapt to behaving completely differently from how we normally do outside of work. Various factors influence this – particularly if you are in management & leadership positions. Knowing understanding, and embracing your core personality is fundamental as it allows you to manage your attitude and behaviour so as not to stray too far from your core. If you are in management or leadership, then the more you can align your management/leadership personality with your core personality, the more fulfilled you are going to be in these roles. For anyone not in these positions, it will be vital for your sense of wellbeing to turn up for work the best version of yourself.

If a recruiter has recruited WELL, then they will want you to flourish in the organisation and in the role itself, enabling you to be yourself and to reach a point of self-actualisation. There is really more to say on this point about recruitment, which I believe is sadly focused more on tasks than it is on people. A huge amount of cultural change is needed here, in my opinion.

There are several ways you can get to know your personality traits. The first is by really observing yourself in an objective manner, and learning about yourself from others’ honest and non-biased observations (really tricky, that one!). There are then psychometric testing that could reveal to you your traits. Professionally, I use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, but there are many others out there and there are other blogs that specialise in this information. I like to use Schein’s Career Orientiations Inventory with my clients, as it reveals to me certain career personality traits together with intentional direction – great meat to chew on with my clients in our coaching sessions!

3. Your Career Values

Firstly I need to tell you that Career Values are not the same as your Personal Core Values. These two are of different levels of importance. Core Values are of secondary importance whereas Career Values are of tertiary importance. This hierarchy of importance is where a lot of people go wrong.

Your worth and dignity is beyond any value – it is infinite. It is constant and never changes. Nothing material (such as money) can ever ransom or exchange your intrinsic and human worth. Please, please remember this for the rest of your life!! Whatever salary you are paid does not equal your immeasurable worth… ok??

Secondly, let’s establish the hierarchy of values. Your Personal Core Values are fundamental interior lights that find an expression for your unique worth. They are both borne out of, and feed back into, your beliefs, attitude and behaviours, your tendencies, attractions and then the faculty of your will. Personal Core Values are of secondary importance in understanding oneself. The tertiary importance of Career Values is simply based on the fact that they ought to be borne out of personal core values, and not the other way around.

When someone places their sense of worth on their career, or what they can do, they strip themselves of their inherent dignity and value. This is level III-I (three to one) disorder. Level III-II (three to two) disorder can be found when, in a similar manner, someone’s personal values are uprooted, and re-rooted in the third hierarchy – that of the career. In other words, someone’s core values are aligned with career values, rather than the other way around. This is, in my opinion, disorder, pure and simple. Is it any wonder why people climb career ladders, achieving all their career goals, and yet experience this emptiness or dissatisfaction in life!?

When I’m career coaching, I use a variety of methods to identify clients’ career values, but I stress the distinction between these values and core values. One of the most fundamental pieces I work on with life coaching clients is personal core values identification. Sometimes, I work on both – but it depends on the client. There’s a myriad of content out there about values, and on this one, I encourage you to do some research (taking into account all I’ve just said) 🙂

4. Your Skills and Competencies

This is usually the most obvious approach someone takes when beginning their career exploration or development. I think this is because when it comes down to recruitment, one of the major shortlisting factors is skills and competencies.

There’s a multitude of ways you can determine or get clarity on your skills and competencies. One task I might give my clients is a workbook based on the European Skills, Competences, Qualifications and Occupations classifications, which I call the Skills to Occupations Inventory. I might also give my clients a personal SWOT style analysis. As mentioned, there are a myriad of options out there. This skills matcher is a helpful one, I have found.

5. Your Differentiator

Finally, knowing what makes you different will give you that added boost of confidence at both application and interview stage. This is really an amalgamation of the previous 4 steps, plus your own conviction and character.

During this time, we’re going to see huge organisational changes, and the way we work is also going to change. The Covid-19 / Coronavirus pandemic is going to loosen tightened hearts. Soft-skills like empathy, compassion, understanding are skills that will be very much needed – skills, that we aren’t often needed or appreciated in the majority of corporate roles. Resilience and adversity – where does that sit with you? Where do you sit with them in yourself?

The power of career coaching really shines through when it comes to differentiation work. Here, working with a coach will nail down the clarity on what makes you different from the rest, and how to really bring that message into your application and interviews. This is because your career coach will be looking for the absolute best in you as well as the blind spots in you too.  Your answers to their requests for information (whether the method is application, testing or interview), if holistic yet honest will make you really stand out.

 

Taking this further

You could, of course, work through the above on your own. That would be fantastic, and a lot cheaper for you! However, if assistance in developing your career personality is needed then, of course, I’m going to recommend that you get yourself a career coach.

A good career coach wants you to know as much about yourself as possible, wants you to be convinced by the worth of who you are and the added value of what you can offer the world, and wants you to succeed for your very own sake, and not for what they would benefit from being your coach. As great as that sounds, however, it will require you to do your homework. This sort of stuff doesn’t always appear in a dream 😉 If you are furloughed at the moment, this might be a good time to do this work.

Self-Knowledge / Self-Awareness in career work is often known as Career Personality. Whilst a career coach can help you with the other parts of the process of getting a job and also continued professional development, for me personally, the starting point must be your self-knowledge. It is absolutely fundamental to your preparations for your next move. Your development or progress may be misdirected if you ultimately don’t know the end goal for yourself, and your decision-making may not be truly aligned with your core values otherwise. No coach would ever want you to make decisions that will lead to unhappiness.

Your journey of self-discovery will be a beautiful one, I promise. And oh, how excited I am for you if you’re about to embark on it!


Life Coach, Change Agent Management, Holistic Massage Therapy, Wellbeing, London, West,

I’m Claz, a Professional Career Coach based in West London, accredited in the UK. I am also a Life & Wellbeing Coach, working with individuals as well as organisations.  You can contact me through my website www.touchofclarity.com.

 

An Alternative to ‘New Year, New You!’

There are so many things I’m excited about entering into 2019. I can’t wait to be meeting and working with amazing clientele who are full of potential and I’m totally looking forward to the ways in which my business will be an opportunity for many others. But one thing I want to do differently right now is suggest an alternative to ‘New Year, New You!’ – a notion that serves as a popular up-sell strategy for life coaches around this time of year. The idea of ‘new year, new you’ is to start anew, with a fresh outlook and fresh new ways of doing things, or even a brand new way of ‘being’. Life coaches support clients to come up with new year’s resolutions, targets, and promises which they make both to themselves and where appropriate, to loved ones. We also support them to follow through with the resolution by holding them accountable. Often however, no matter who we are, or what our experiences of the past have been, we can potentially set ourselves unrealistic objectives that we not only become disillusioned by, but even become rebellious toward after a certain time. The thing is, I don’t often find an issue with the resolution itself. More often, it’s the approach to the resolution that is badly managed, and sometimes life coaches can fall into the trap of promoting an unsustainable approach to human behavioural change over the new year period. Here’s a solution to the folly of the ‘New Year, New You’ ideal, which proposes an altogether healthier approach to ‘A Transformed You’. The solution is itself, transformation. The approach: to enact three fundamentally healthy actions that drive and sustain the transformation.

 

Action #1: Don’t ignore your past – use it to your advantage!

Yesterday, Disney’s The Lion King was on the TV, and I was struck by this particular scene. It presents a very healthy life lesson for all of humanity. Our past, no matter what it was like for us, became a promise of increased knowledge and learning at the very moment that it became a reality of a present moment for us. That learning extends as much to ourselves – our intellects and inner world from where our behaviour and responses stem, as to our external world – our environments and circumstances that influence, inform and evoke our behaviour and responses.

As Rafiki the baboon says, “we can either run from the past, or learn from it”. The former does not help us to grow or to transform into freer human beings. People who run from the past tend to use it as an excuse for behaviour that is not conducive to transformation into a more mature being. A refusal to confront the past imprisons them to a moment of the past that shaped their attitude, behaviour and responses, resulting in present decisions formed by experiences that hold them captive. This prevents progress in maturity. It is easy enough to make plans and set goals, but when we are triggered by negative emotion, attitude, or experiences associated with the past, the person who runs from the past will refuse to overcome the barrier. This same barrier will return time and again if it is not addressed.

The person who learns from their past and brings it with them into the present moment from a reconciled position is liberated from the captivity of the past. Their decisions are formed and made with the future in mind. They are able to use their past to know ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’. They have been changed from a deeper place within themselves, that their actions are informed by this knowledge gained from their previous experiences.

The point here is that interior change caused as a result of our past is the safest way of sustaining the journey toward the end goal or resolution. The notion of ‘new year, new you’ tends toward an attitude of ignoring past experiences which configures and informs our current self-knowledge – a vital key to setting and achieving realistic goals. The folly of ‘new year, new you’ is that at the stroke of midnight on 01/01/2019, you didn’t become a whole new person, and your history was not voided as if some man in the cloud with a giant computer deleted your mental and emotional cache! We didn’t just enter into the new year a brand new person, no matter how much we might want that to be so. We bring with us into the new year all our old habits, fears, discouragements, resentments, as well as capacities and capabilities. Don’t forget to include your own ability to bring into 2019 all that was positive and successful from your past! Use your past as an advantage for the decisions you make along this journey of achieving your new year’s resolutions, and you’ll find yourself more encouraged and committed to the change you’re putting into action.

 

Action #2: Accept change as a journey and not as an immediate reaction

The purpose of you setting a resolution is because you want something to change in your life. What I have learned, however, in the many years that I have been journeying with people, is that the last thing many of us human beings want to change, is ourselves. We believe it’s much easier to change our external world – our circumstances, environments, states, the people in our lives – than our understanding, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. As a change management practitioner, it’s my job and joy to bring to light the journey of change in every human being. The journey is often a difficult one, but is ultimately a very liberating one! In fact, the greatest joy of reaching our goals ought not be the goal itself, but how much we have grown and changed along the journey.

We can’t escape change – it’s necessary for our survival and good for our human faculties (by this I mean body, soul and spirit). It happens not only outside ourselves, but the most precious place that change happens is within ourselves. Attitudinal and behavioural change doesn’t happen instantaneously – it is a process that requires self-knowledge (as addressed above) and time (addressed here). Due to many varying factors, we tend to want to speed things up and if possible, skip parts of the process required to achieve the goal. If I were to set a goal of praising God from the top of a mountain, the temptation is to imagine myself singing from the top of the mountain. However, a zoomed-in image of the goal ignores the rest of the picture, and I would then forget or ignore the reality that is the climb that would get me there. Embracing the bigger picture, and gaining knowledge from maps means that I can assess the valleys, mountains, deserts and oceans on the journey in between where I am at now, and that goal. They inform me of what needs to happen for me to get to the top of the mountain and to make decisions on whether that need must be met to achieve the goal. For example, I don’t need a good singing voice to get up to the top of the mountain, but I need a sturdy pair of legs that are fit for climbing, and I will need lots of courage! There’s lots of other things that would need to be added to this list. In essence, it would be folly to commit to the goal without perceiving the journey that will get us there a sustainably changed person without giving up. In other words, it’s not the things around me that ought to change, but my approach to change that takes into account the reality of my humanity.

The point here is that for the change in us to be sustainable, we have to undergo a journey of behavioural change to move us into the future, as painful or difficult that may at first seem. It’s the most foolproof way of tackling barriers and remaining committed to the goal. We need to let go of old ‘vicious’ habits, and form new ‘virtuous’ habits. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, back in 1969, upon observing the process of overcoming grief and bereavement, identified a characteristic pattern of responses that human beings needed to go through to ‘let go’ of the past and begin to embrace and engage with a different future. It is a model that applies as much to objects, circumstances and situations as to ourselves and other people in our lives. If practiced, the increase in the probability of a change being successful is really quite noticeable. Kübler-Ross’ 7 stages of the process of human change are: 1) shock; 2) denial; 3) anger or blame at others; 4) self-blame, bargaining or guilt; 5) depression or confusion; 6) deep acceptance; and 7) problem-solving. A graphical representation of the change curve can be found here. Undergoing this process is the most natural and harmless way of accepting the present moment and forming new habits and connections in our psyche and heart.

 

Action #3: Form new habits for your new beginnings

Once a change has taken root within ourselves, we’ll find that our lives begin to change, in huge and small ways. That’s partly because the change has cost us. A lot. We were so dissatisfied with the way things were, we found the benefit of the change outweighed the cost, and the long-term change is now here to stay. So what must a person do, if say for example, his or her approach to life has changed, but s/he misses the positive aspects of what s/he used to have and s/he discovers a longing in his/her heart for this aspect of his/her past? This re-visit or return to fond memories happens often, and my experiences with other people tend to show that the majority of these are relational (contact with certain persons of value in the heart or any subconscious establishment of a relationship to objects, circumstances, environment or states). A preventative measure to the ‘re-visit’ or ‘return’ lies in 3 important questions:

1)     Do I have an attachment of any kind (most especially emotional attachments as these are the hardest to detach from) to this person/object/circumstance/environment/state?

2)     What boundaries can I set to ensure that I go into the future avoiding old habits associated with this person/object/circumstance/environment/state?

3)     How can my own ability and capacity to live with this person/object/circumstance/environment/state be strengthened and improved?

Answering these questions once the initial change has happened but before one has reached that point of re-visit/return could be very useful to the next part of the process.

 

The pre-condition to transformation

The irony of finding freedom in these actions that focus your capacities on remaining committed to that journey will paradoxically invoke change in the life that is external to you, because the change will ultimately happen in you yourself. There is one pre-condition to this taking full effect. The three actions, to be successful together, require your readiness to change. I encourage starting 2019 and our new year resolution(s), not with ‘New Year, New You’ in mind, but with long-term sustainable transformation in mind. If you like, you can call it: ‘new year for new beginnings’. Only with readiness to change will we find ourselves:

a) letting go of the past’s bad habits, attitudes, behaviours and misunderstandings

b) living the present moment of transition by developing new habits, attitudes, behaviours and understandings.

c) putting a plan in place to ensure the sustainability of the changed ‘me’, having new habits, attitudes, behaviours and understanding embedded in my daily life for the future.

May the changes that are to happen in your life and your readiness for that change bring you to an encounter with the truth of who you are and what your mission in this world is to be for this year. I would love to hear how this has been helpful for you! Likewise, please do share it – especially if you find someone you know is encountering disillusionment and difficulty progressing toward their goal or new year’s resolutions further down the line!

 

Every blessing!

C.

Copyright © 2018 Claz Gomez.

Photo credit to Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash