A Google search for “stress” yields 933,000,000 result. This blog will save you from a lot of reading that will probably be stressful!
According to the Center for BrainHealth, part of The University of Texas at Dallas‘ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, managing stress is critical to brain health. And we all want healthy brains that age slowly! Any stress – chronic or acute – “can be detrimental to your health – physically and mentally. In fact, chronic stress can impair thinking, shrink the brain’s memory center and accelerate aging.” YEOW!
This applies to how we connect to ourselves, how we interact with people we love – our partner, family and friends – and with people at work. If you want to be a leader in your work and your life, you must be aware of what you are saying, your emotions, and how you are reacting in each moment. The principle of neuroplasticity is that whatever you practice (do repeatedly) grows stronger. This means that if you are nice at work and stressed at home, or the reverse, then you are still practicing being stressed!
Our Language Matters. Our Words Matter.
Did you ever learn the rhyme “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.”?
When someone calls your stupid or you say it to yourself, it impact us. If you hear it enough times (sometimes it can be just one time), you believe it. When something is hard for you, instead of figuring out how to do it, you might just say to yourself “I can’t do it. I’m stupid.” Words matter. Words do hurt. When you say that words do not hurt you, you are denying the feelings and that is a recipe for suffering and disconnecting from yourself and others.
Try this experiment: Think of a typical, stressful situation for you.
1. Say and act out the conversations you have out loud or to yourself. Here’s an example of one or more things you might say to yourself when you are struggling: “I can’t do this. This is so hard. I hate this. Why are they like this? Why do I have to do this? Why can’t I do this? What’s wrong with me?” If you say these statements with feeling and mean it when you say it (just pretend you are an actor), notice how your body reacts. My shoulders are tense and I feel discouraged. What about you?
2. Now, say while smiling: “Wow, this is easy. I am figuring it out now. No problem. I can do this. Everything is working out perfectly.” If you say this and similar statements with an optimistic, confident, or peaceful feeling, notice how your body reacts now.
3. Can you feel a difference between the two? Aaaahhhh. I feel the tension leaving my body as I say, “Everything is working out perfectly.”
When we are stressed out, we say things to others or ourselves that often increases our stress and hurts us or others. Our words can cause us to spiral out of control in stressful situations or help calm us down.
Here are some practical things you can do in a few minutes that can help calm you down throughout the day, think more clearly so you can take care of your big, beautiful brain and your beautiful relationships. Stress is contagious and so is confidence, happiness, optimism, etc. These strategies are about making our words support, calm and uplift us.
Beginning in March of 2020, dealing with Covid and everything else unfolding, and talking with people every day about how they are dealing with the uncertainties of life, I am clear that these are even more important practices now. They are most effective when you practice them daily so they become a habit and then are your natural response when you need it. Our resilience is diminished in times of stress unless we are intentionally focusing on releasing the stress as we observe and feel it!
The more you complain or are around others who complain, the more you are likely to complain. Complaining has significant risks to your health and the health of those around you. It triggers the stress hormone, cortisol, which gets you ready for fight or flight. Great for the prehistoric man who needs the cortisol to run from the bear. Unlike us now, if he was lucky enough to escape, he’d calm after he was safely in his cave. We rarely calm down – we go from one stressful situation to another – getting your kids out the door, driving to work, realizing your watch is 5 minutes late, doing a new task at work you are unsure about, dealing with difficult customers or clients, rushing to buy groceries for dinner, driving home in rush-hour traffic, fixing dinner quickly, burning dinner, doing dishes, working on your taxes, trying to find your favorite earring that is missing. (Get the picture? There’s no safety in the cave anymore.)
Complaining doesn’t work. If complaining worked at getting what we want, we’d be so amazingly happy – but it doesn’t. Complaining keeps you stuck on what you do not want. Gratitude is the antidote to complaining!
Focus on what you have not on what you don’t have or have but don’t want. Try it now. Think of something you complain about. How do you feel? Cranky? Upset? Some other negative emotion? Now think of something you can be grateful for about the situation – you or someone got hurt but didn’t die, your car battery died but you were close to home not on a road trip. You are frustrated by all the technology you are having to learn to do your job.
We get upset when things don’t go our way but it’s sets us up to be disappointed if we try to control everything. Practice being grateful for what people do for us and they will often do more. Complaining has them want to avoid us. Isn’t that how you feel when you try to do something nice for someone and it’s not good enough?
Now here’s the trick. To really BE grateful you must FEEL THE GRATITUDE! Thinking “I’m grateful” is nice but the more intense emotion changes your brain by laying new habits of gratitude instead of complaining or worrying. Frustrated about your job. Feel the gratitude wash over you and fill your heart – you have a job, you like the people you work with, you have a high learning curve and surely you are warding off Alzheimer’s by challenging yourself, you’re so proud of what you have accomplished.
Gratitude is powerful when what you are grateful for is something you want in the future. You see, when you are grateful, your brain things that it’s already happened, such as being an international bestseller or your body is cancer-free. If you create the gratitude as if it has already happened, you are happy and take different actions than if you are struggling.
When you are making an effort to change, you need to be super kind to yourself. It takes courage to change. Give yourself a pat on the back. If you beat yourself up, you make it harder for yourself. Remember that your words matter so use words of kindness to yourself. And if you are supporting other people to make changes, then be kind to them, too. (Just like you, they beat themselves up, so they don’t need to hear it from you.) You can ask yourself or others, what do you need? Then do your best to provide it. Listen to or sing a song that inspires you. Put on some music and dance for 3 (or more) minutes. Call a friend, connect and feel the support. Do some mindful breathing or one of the other suggestions for dealing with stress in the blog Stress is Optional – Strategies for Happier Family, Work and Life.
Practice Self-Observation and Intentionally Observe What You Say
Self-observation is critical to implement the first three practices. If you don’t know when you are complaining then you can’t stop complaining and start being grateful and kind to yourself and others. To be self-awareness we must observe how we show up in the world, and a big part of that is what we are saying to ourselves and others.
Before we can attract love or reconnect or deepen the love with have with our partner, we have to be aware of what we are saying and doing. Before we can create a collaborative team built on trust, we have to be aware of the whether we are building or damaging trust with the people we work with.
These practices have us tune in to what we are saying and the world that we create through our words.
If you do these practices consistently, over time, your experience of life would radically improve. I know that because it happened to me.
How could practicing observing what you say, stopping complaining, expressing gratitude (and experiencing it), or being kind to yourself support you in your journey to having love, effective communication, trust and being a great leader. I’d love to hear from you.
Would like support in implementing these practices? Reach out to me using my website Contact form and let’s chat.