Stress — Where does it come from?

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As a Business Coach, my purpose as I see it, is to help individuals and teams realise their full potential. To help them achieve the business results they want so they can not only deliver on the outcomes expected of them by their upline but also fulfil their own personal goals at the same time. Win/win. I work with clients across all industries and levels and a common challenge I address within the programmes I design and the conversations I have, is dealing with stress or anxiety around a particular topic or situation, in the different forms it shows up.

If I asked my clients what causes their stress, (and I do ask this question regularly), I would be given a variety of answers such as public speaking, delivering a presentation, targets, appraisals, disgruntled clients, financial pressure, too much work, understaffing, unrealistic timeframes, sub-standard work conditions, takeovers, potential redundancy…it would be a very long list. But if we were to look at one of those causes of stress on a case by case basis, this would change from person to person from experiencing no stress at all, mild forms to full anxiety attacks. Some would not be fazed by delivering a presentation and some would. I became very interested in the different levels of response to the causes of feelings of stress’ between clients and in addition, the different levels of feelings of stress those causes might have on a particular individual from day to day.

For example, if targets were the cause of stress, then wouldn’t it make sense that everyone in the same team with that same target, would experience the same levels of feelings of stress? But in actual fact, within a specific team I was working with, some team members thrived in the face of stretching and challenging targets and others would crumble under the pressure. If ‘too much work’ was the cause of stressful feelings, or ‘not having enough time’, then would it be fair to say that all people facing those same situations, would experience stressful feelings? But they don’t. One of my clients sees non completion of a to do list in a day as a failure and an unproductive day. Another client sees a half completed list at the end of a day as one step closer to where they were when they started and is completely unfazed by it. Two different reactions to the same experience. Why does one person view potential redundancy as one of the worst things that can happen to them and another can be rubbing their hands together excitedly thinking about what they could be doing next with their career? What accounts for this inconsistency? If stress really was caused by outside factors such as some of those listed above, then it would consistently and constantly be causing us to experience feelings of stress every single time and in every single person. But it doesn’t. In fact, one of my clients confessed the other day that some days his targets seem utterly unachievable to him and he feels demotivated and deflated and the next day, he’s pumped and can’t wait to get on the phone to make meetings. Same target, completely different emotional state. So what isthe variable in people’s experiences of stress?

Our thinking is the variable and it’s a variable that is a force to be reckoned with our mind is the greatest special effects department ever designed. Our thinking causes feelings which create our experience from moment to moment and it feels real. The formula I use for this is Thought = Feeling = Experience. So, when my client is thinking about his target — his rapid-fire thoughts of ‘where he is against it, how far off he is from achieving it, what’s in his pipeline’ can then turn into thoughts about ‘what will happen if he doesn’t achieve it’ which takes him out of the moment of now (reality), into a future imagined reality, a made up fantasy thinking about ‘what if’. Those made up thoughts generate a feeling which can be labelled as ‘stress’. And it looks like those feelings are coming from his target. In actual fact, his feelings are coming from his thinking about his target in that moment. This ‘future imagined reality’ is a major contributor to our experience of feelings of stress.

100% of the time, we are living in the feeling of our thinking. Thought = Feeling = Experience. As humans, we are designed to thrive. We have a built in wellness/resilience GPS that always knows what to do when we’re present, or operating in reality, which is only ever in this moment, right now. Where we don’t do well, is when we’re operating in an imagined reality, thinking about the past or the future. Both of these are made up, illusory or fictitious. Obviously the past happened, but you’re only experiencing it through thought in the moment now. So if you think about a sad memory from your past, you’ll experience feelings of sadness in that moment and if you think about a happy memory from your past, you’ll find yourself smiling and experiencing feelings of joy in that moment. You are not experiencing your past, you are experiencing your thinking about the past. Thought = feeling = experience. This is a very subtle but powerful difference to understand.

Why it’s helpful to know this, is when we understand that we’re always experiencing our thinking in the moment, it eliminates the misunderstanding that outside circumstances, factors, people, or things can have an effect on us, or can ’cause us to feel’ any sort of emotion. When it looks like your feelings of stress are coming from a colleague or boss, or anything else, then it seems that the solution is out of your control, that you are unable to ‘fix’ how you feel unless that other person/thing/situation changes. To see that you’re only experiencing your thinking about your colleague or boss (which will change from moment to moment or day to day — because new thought is available to us in any moment), then it frees us to not get caught up in those feelings. If we come back to the present moment, we’re reset into our natural wellness and resilience and from there, what to do next will come to you.

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