Tackling Stressful Situations

111611-man-deep-breathing-dockWhen you are packing for a vacation you try to include everything you need. The Boy Scout Motto is “always be prepared.” At work you rehearse your presentation to make sure it goes smoothly. You’ve probably discovered that the best way to ensure success is to be prepared: to have thought about it in advance. But, how do you prepare for life’s challenges? Here are three ways you can get yourself prepared for stressful situations: body awareness, setting your intentions, and putting your fears in perspective.

Body Scan

When your body is tense, you are going to react more harshly and impulsively. But if you know that a stressful time is coming up, you can stay a little calmer and more in control by preparing for it.

Even when we recall a past stressful event, our bodies remind us of the pain and trauma. Our bodies are a storehouse of emotions: just picturing yourself in a stressful situation, generally elicits a bodily reaction.

Practice

When you wake up in the morning, stay lying in your bed. Perform a short progressive muscle relaxation activity starting with your toes and working your way up to the crown of your head.

Once your body is feeling more calm and loose, begin to picture the upcoming, stressful situation and how you want to be seen. It is very important that you visualize the string of events as you would like for them to unfold.

While you are imagining the event, keep an eye on your body (from a bird’s eye perspective) and notice what comes up as you walk yourself through the event, starting from the beginning and going through all the steps to the very end.

When you notice any tension arising, see if you can stay in that moment and breath into the constriction. Slowly continue moving through the event. It’s okay if you need to take breaks along the way. Continue this exercise a couple of times a week before the event to help get your mind and body in a more relaxed state.

Intentions

If you only plan out what happens at work tomorrow, you are only setting yourself up for success for tomorrow. Instead, if you decide what kind of person you want to be in your career, that will have an impact forever. You can do this by setting your intentions.

Intentions are how you want to perceive and interact with the world — they set the tone for everything. Your intentions are the basis for who you are as a person. Derived from our core values, our intentions help guide us through everyday life.

Practice

Phillip Moffitt created a concise, easy-to-use worksheet that is great for solidifying your intentions. Once you have established your intentions, write them down and memorize them. Use them as your commitments to yourself and those around you. When you act from your intentions, you are more happy.

Face Fears

Fear holds us back; it prevents us from growing and hinders us from moving with ease through life’s difficulties. It’s generally lurking behind our agitation and when we don’t acknowledge it, we misperceive situations and rashly react.

When you admit that you are scared, try to move with it. Don’t try to make the way you feel go away. Instead, be curious and see where the fear comes from.

Practice

When you are feeling a sense of pulling or constriction related to a certain situation, visualize the thing that you are afraid of happening and explore it. Often times, behind a compulsion is a fear of the outcome not being perfect, or something going wrong.

Look at the motivator behind the fear. Ask yourself, “what happens if I don’t do this right now? What happens if the situation ends in a way that I am afraid of happening? How can I change the way I am thinking about this?”

When you dissect your thoughts in this way, you discover what is motivating your behavior, and you can change they way you are thinking about it. Where you place your mind is how it’s going to be.

After learning how to become more mindful in the present (my last blog post), the next progression is taking these skills and applying them to anticipated stressful events. Often times, we bring these events into the present by complaining and worrying about them. Instead, use this time as an opportunity to investigate with curiosity and an open mind. See what comes up, pay attention to it, and befriend it.

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