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Let the stress do the work

Updated: Feb 29

It took me a minute. As I sat there trying to figure it out, thinking to myself that I have been through hard stuff, why was this so different? Why did it feel different? Coming from someone who had worked full time in the military, simultaneously going to school for a doctorate degree, and a single mom, I thought my tolerance for what I considered stress to be pretty high. I recall so many times, running on nearly empty but getting the job done anyway. Having worked all weekend at drill and coming home to write the paper that was due at midnight. In my doctorate program, pushing to finish one of my school terms 3 weeks early because I would be out of the country and not certain of connect-ability. Changing positions in my job to something more challenging. Selling, and buying a house while starting a doctorate program. Becoming a professional in the fitness world of bodybuilding. Plus going through so much more on the personal family side that I will not spend time on here. Whatever it was, I found a way to make it happen. I felt I could handle stress... well at least until I started my own business. It was new, something that I had never experienced. So, back to my question above, why was this so different?

Reflecting on the differences, it came to mind the different forms of stress that we endure. Yes, we talk about "eustress", "distress", good or bad stress, but it is more beyond just that. It is the form, the dynamic of that stress. So, for a minute, I just want to dissect the two scenarios. In the first scenario, I had goals, I was working towards something, it was for a season. Anything is possible, and I could push myself when it was just for a season. Time management had to be on point, organization was prevalent, and even though it was a lot, I was in control. Was there procrastination? Yes. But did that push me? Yes. So then what was so different about starting a brand-new business from scratch without any business knowledge or exposure? I realized this felt like the complete opposite. Ambiguous. Ever evolving. There was no end date, this was it. Yes, did I have a business plan, however much like a textbook, that would get scratched when it came to applying it to real life scenarios. It was lessons that only life could teach you. Some days wondering, where will the next client come from, how could I reach more people? Asking so many questions, ALL OF THE TIME. My brain felt empty and on overload at the same time. These were two different forms with two different dynamics. So for the sake of labeling, because labels help our brain process... the first is what I will call "concrete". The latter, I will label as "abstract" stress. Abstract stress was and is hard for someone who is Type A personality, perfectionist, aka "the control freak."

Let me offer solution to you though here. If you are the "type A person", or even if you are not, and find yourself in a stressful predicament, the question isn't whether you are stressed, the question is what need is not being met? The stress will point to it. What areas are you lacking? It is this perceived deficit that creates the stress in the first place. A simple breakdown definition of stress is when demand is greater than resources available. So, if you can slow down, reflect, pay attention to it, the stress will do the work, and show you.

For the "abstract" form of stress, it was the feeling of loss of control, helplessness at various moments in time, that all pointed to an unmet need. Once I identified this need, I was able to shift, adapt, and reframe for the present moment. In uncertainty, and transitions, the question I began to ask myself daily was, "what can I control right now in this moment?", identify that, then developing a technique to release that which I could not control. Such as deep breathing, mental imagery, and productive forms of self-talk. Having trusted mentors, and friends was also very beneficial, because isolation in the uncertainty can be detrimental to your mental health. For the first scenario, the more "concrete" stress, the unmet need was the lack of time, which led to potential neglect of self-care, ways to decompress, and manage competing priorities. Therefore, I became more intentional with scheduling in time for these things. Checklists and calendars were also helpful!

So, in conclusion, whatever stress you might be experiencing, let it do the work for you. Let it reveal areas of deficit. Then identify the unmet need and develop ways to meet that need as best as possible. Of course, we must be honest with ourselves too, and if you need to ask for help, don't be afraid to ask for help. Prolonged stress is not good for our physical health, or mental health. Stress management is a part of your mental health.

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