Why Managing Stress Doesn't Work

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Pencil rubber Stress

Now I know that’s a pretty big claim to make (and bearing in mind what I do for a living, possibly an unexpected one).  So let’s explore:  Firstly, managing anything takes time and energy, and there’s not much to spare when you’re stressed out.  Slacken off the effort, and the stresses build back up again.  Many techniques don’t work at all unless you do them often, so it can become yet another big commitment.

Managing stress is an away-from motivation – to get away from its unpleasant effects.  Like taking a stone out of your shoe, once the discomfort’s gone, you just carry on as you were.  But unfortunately, that stress tends to come back.  So it’s easy to end up yo-yo stressing.  It builds up, you start doing something different, it reduces, you stop and it builds up again….

And that’s the advantage of the skills to change the underlying stress response.  It’s like taking the stone from your shoe, in a way that it doesn’t come back….

Secondly, most ways of trying to manage involve using logic, and sometimes willpower.  But that’s not the part of the thinking where the stressful patterns are running.  Nobody wakes up in a morning and deliberately decides what they’re going to stress out about that day. 

So for example, someone who’s over-worrying about an upcoming meeting might try to reason with themself, coming up with evidence for the unlikeliness of each of the disaster scenarios.  Comparing it with similar meetings which have gone OK.  Having a good old inner debate.  But while that underlying pattern is still running, no matter how many unhelpful thoughts they reason away, more will pop up to take their place.  That approach is the on-purpose thinking trying to impose its will on the rest, and it just doesn’t work.  It’s exhausting. 

Thirdly, trying to manage it tunes in the noticing to where there’s stress, so you start to notice more of it, and the system sticks on high-alert.  It’s like the mind’s version of an allergic reaction – the body’s high-alert reaction to a substance which should be harmless.  In the mind’s case, that means little things start to feel like a really big deal.  Simply feeling like you should be doing more to manage it, can make you feel more stressed.

Many management techniques rely on changing what’s happening on the outside, or what you’re actually doing – a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and stress isn’t that simple.  Managing your time differently, talking things through with friends, taking time to concentrate on your breathing and be more fully in the ‘now’…..  They all make practical sense – but they rely on those changes being both possible, and sustainable. And that’s not always the case.

It’s so much easier to get inside where the stress is actually coming from – inside your mind’s not-on-purpose patterns, and start switching some of it off.  Because unless you’re in immediate mortal danger, that stress isn’t doing what it was designed for (keeping you safe).  It isn’t helping.  It doesn’t need to take time, or practice.  With a little of the right know-how, you can start easing that stress away, right away…

So I’m on a mission to get more people access to those powerful skills.  To provide a viable alternative to managing; and one way is by changing how employers tackle workplace stress.  For some, it’s a biiiiig change to make.  I’ve spent most of my career leading big changes – data is an important ingredient.  And that’s where I need some help.  This survey takes around three and a half minutes, it’s completely anonymous, and there’s an optional thankyou at the end (including my e-book “Why Stress management Doesn’t Work, and What to Do Instead”, if you’d like to explore a little further).

CLICK HERE to take the survey, and please share it with everyone you can - the more people take part, the bigger the difference it can make. 

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