Ah, August! A prime month for stress-busting summer getaways.
Yet, prepping for that relaxing vacation can turn up tension levels for the best of us: bags to be packed, last-minute bills to be paid, late-night laundry to fluff and fold, a schedule to keep.
I know it only too well! We’re planning a music festival getaway rght now, and while I’m looking forward to time away, I can feel my own stress levels ramping up.
Getting good at stress is a bit like selecting just the right sunglasses for your trip. (Good at stress? Uh, no. That’s why we’re getting out of town!)
- Ever wonder how certain people remain perennially calm and collected in the face of looming deadlines, tense meetings, and uncertainty in the workplace?
- Curious about how they’re handling their testy teenagers, especially over summer break?
- Envious how these seemingly unflappable people consistently get ahead in their lives and their careers?
First, about those shades you’ll need . . .
In prep mode for your trip, you’re likely going to want a pair of shades that both protects your eyes and allows you to see well and participate in great adventures.
The sun gives off ultraviolet (UV) rays that we can’t see or feel, though we all experience its white-hot glare, especially in summertime. In small doses, being out in the sun boosts our vitamin D levels and mood.
If your sunglasses aren’t rated to block UV rays, too much light enters and you might end up damaging your retina or clouding your vision.
But, if you’re in a rush,
- You may not pay any attention to eye covering, (we tend to take it for granted)
- You go without, squinting (hoping for the best)
- You mindlessly grab a cheap pair on the way out of town (we’ve always gone this route)
- You prefer trendy shades and don’t pay attention to UV rating (pretending, the cool effect)
- You select polarized lenses to greatly reduce the glare (only interested in seeing some things)
In the end, you forgo the UV glasses that could block your eyes from searing damage, and ultimately see less than you’d hoped.
What’s their secret?
Back to how other people get so good at stress. What’s their secret?
It has to do with Mindset and Mood (See It’s all in Your Head: The Power of Mindset, April 2019)
We call it resilience. That ‘ability to bounce or spring back into shape after being stretched, bent, or compressed.’
If you’ve ever felt stretched too far, bent out of shape, or pressed into a ball of roiling stress, you’ll know the internal longing to bounce back, to ‘feel like myself,’ again.
The good news is that we can develop resilience by making good choices within what Dr. Dan Siegel has called the Window of Tolerance.
The Window of Tolerance describes a zone of emotional arousal within our nervous system where we’re able to function most effectively. When we’re within this zone, we’re typically able to readily receive, process, and integrate information and otherwise respond to the stresses and demands of everyday life without much difficulty.
Too much stress, however, and we may experience hurt, anxiety, pain, anger that brings us close to the edges of the window of tolerance. This can be uncomfortable.
Too little stress (or prolonged over-stress), and we may become numb, exhausted, ‘stressed out,’ and act with poor boundaries.
Generally speaking, however our present-day mindset has strategies for keeping us within this window.
The diagram below demonstrates the ebb and flow of an optimally regulated nervous system with activation followed by an emotional settling.
Yet, what helps us get really good at stress – or what’s alternatively described as ‘stress hardiness,’ grit, learned optimism or post-traumatic growth – is to work right at the edges of our Window of Tolerance so that we’re expanding and growing the breadth of the window, taking more of life in, without doing damage to our overall well-being.
Getting Good at Stress: Recognize-Renew-Reflect-Return-Rewire
Folks who are resilient in the face of life’s struggles ‘see’ stress differently. They hold a mindset that stress-is-enhancing (vs. stress-is-debilitating).
Rather than a threat, they believe that adversity is a normal challenge and part of life. They don’t use energy resisting change. They believe they have choices to make, and they make them.
However aware of their mindset and mood they are, they instinctively follow a 5-part process to work within their window while simultaneously expanding it (which is why it can look to others as if they simply were born that way!).
Just like your shades, where you’ll want just the right glasses that provide 100% UV protection, these stress-hardy, gritty, resilient folks recognize the situation they’re in and that it might be tricky.
It may come in a flash for you as you recognize how fatigued you are in the middle of the day. Or, when you become aware that you’re tired of fighting: the kids, your partner, the deadlines, life.
Or, when you recognize that something you love to do: golf, garden, grandkids—well, none of it sparks your interest.
They renew their physical body by pausing, slowing down and breathing which calms down their emotional reactions.
They reflect on the details at hand from a calmer perspective.
They return their attention to what the situation calls for at the moment.
And in doing so, they’re expanding the edges of their Window of Tolerance and rewiring their brains for greater resilience.
Getting good at stress, where’s your attention?