Stress is a subjective thing. If two people are stressed the same way, one may collapse and the other may thrive on the challenge. So, if you want to be someone who's strong and resilient, you need to be intentional with your thoughts and how you process what's happening. That's according to Kevin Cashman, author of Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life. Here are his words on three simple questions to help you handle stress with dignity.
1. What can I control in this situation?
When managing stress, control is best applied in our self-management versus trying to manage others. This involves deeper awareness of our responses to stress, especially to any reactive behaviors that don't improve the situation (or that actually make things worse). You can't control circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. Taking charge of our well-being practices--fitness, self-care, sleep, diet, and meditation practices to build resilience is an important aspect of maintaining self-management during stress. When it comes to stress, it is best to control oneself to influence others.
2. What can I do to influence this situation?
There is a difference between control and influence. You can't control the circumstances or people surrounding a stressful situation, but you can influence them. Influence is the language of emotional intelligence. It converts stressful, potentially volatile situations into opportunities for growth and collective aspiration. However, to be effective and not controlling, your influence must be both authentic and highly relevant and important to others. Take Jim, a crusty "old-school" executive, who was extremely bright and, for the most part, got exceptional results. But when stress was high and he was responsible for navigating the team through the chaos, he "bored holes" right through people. During coaching we discovered that he didn't mean to have such a negative impact on people. He just didn't know any other way. He was reacting as a string of role models around him had. It turns out that, despite his behavior, he was a thoughtful, caring, and character-driven person. He just needed to find congruence between who he was on the inside with the results-oriented, intelligent leader he was on the outside. Once he started living the authentic change, he and his team were more effective.
3. What do I have to accept here?"
If control and influence are not generating the impact we hoped for, then we have to step back to discern and accept something that may be within or outside of ourselves. For most professionals this is the most challenging stress reliever because it goes counter to our ambitious action-orientation. When we sometimes admit that investing additional energy, time and other resources will not create an acceptable return, it frees us up to use all those resources to create new value-creating visions.
Distress is usually the by-product of wasting energy by trying to control things we can only influence or accept, or accepting things we could influence or control. Take action on what you can control or influence, and more clearly face what you have to accept.