Taking Control

I received a higher than normal amount of feedback from 2 of my recent articles which highlighted how energy and motivation levels (especially my own) can be reduced to almost non-existent levels.

Many people mentioned that they felt as if the article was describing them. And when you think about it, that’s not really all that surprising.

Regardless of our current jobs or careers, we’re all doing our best to earn a living while trying to have an enjoyable family and social life as well. It’s a normal part of life that this balancing act, combined with the inevitable unforeseen circumstances that come along with it, will put us under some physical and mental strain every now and again.

However, being constantly “stressed out” is NOT normal and doesn’t need to be accepted as if it is. Not only is it not normal, it’s actually very dangerous.

Austrian-Canadian scientist Hans Selye, who did pioneering work on the study of stress, noted that we are constantly surrounded by unhealthy microbes and bacteria, but it only seems to be when we are highly stressed that we get sick. He also stated that “it’s not stress that kills us, but our response to it.”

Stress, or more accurately, a continuous, long-term heightened stress response, has been associated with the onset of many major health issues, especially coronary disease. This situation means that stress hormones are constantly being released which in turn can have a negative impact on our immune system. I’m sure that we can all remember a time when we felt under extreme pressure and then a few days later developed a cold or ‘flu’, or similar illness.

The important point to remember is that it’s our response, rather than the “stress” itself that is the crucial factor. And while we may not have much control over the stress-causing event, we have 100% control over how we react to it.

To illustrate this point, imagine 2 people stuck in the same traffic jam caused by a motorway accident and they’re both going to be 15-20 minutes late for work. Person A freaks out, cursing and blinding, banging the steering wheel and sounding the horn at equally frustrated drivers who can’t move either. Person B accepts he’s going to be late, gives thanks he wasn’t involved in the collision, contacts his workplace to let them know he’s on his way, and then relaxes in the car listening to the radio or a favourite CD.

In this case, both drivers have experienced the same incident over which they had no control, but they’ve had 2 totally different responses. And there are no prizes for guessing which one is more likely to have a heart attack.

I’ve done the Driver A, freak-out response enough times in different situations to realize that it doesn’t work very well. The following are 2 of the simple strategies that I find most useful to help reduce my own stress levels and feelings of being over-whelmed. I’ve also recommended them to those of my clients who have been struggling to reach their training goals due to high stress levels.

Control the Controllable. You can control your thoughts, decisions, actions, the amount of training and exercise you do, the type of food you eat, how much water you drink and what time you go to bed. If you spend more time focussing on that lot, you’ll be well on the way to a happy life! These are the basics but they’re the most important factors for improving physical and mental health

Do The One Thing. After that, there are many other areas of your family, work, social, and sporting life that you can also directly control. However, with such a lot of options and items calling for your immediate attention, things can get very over-whelming. The best piece of advice I’ve read recently comes from Gary Keller in his book The One Thing. He recommends that you avoid trying to multi-task (sorry ladies, but according to the book “multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw-up more than one thing at a time”!).

Instead, he suggests asking yourself the focussing question: “What’s The One Thing I Can Do, Such By Doing It, Everything Else Will Be Easier Or Un-Necessary?” For me, this means that in as many situations as possible, I choose the one item that will make the rest of my day, week or life easier. This question alone can help bring clarity and a greater sense of control to your life, while reducing those feelings of over-whelm.

Today was just a sample of how to reduce stress levels. We’ll look at plenty more over the coming weeks.

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