There has perhaps never been a more stressful time than the pandemic. It has been and continues to be a gnarly concoction of economic fear and fear for our health. Some days have been emotionally overwhelming. We would like to share some of the successful tactics we’ve used for handling stress and open an invite for collaboration here.
While there are a million ways of handling stress, most tactics are some deviation of mindfulness. Simply put, being able to disconnect or unhook from emotion, thoughts, and reactions as they fly through your brain. The goal is not to cease thought or stop having mood swings, that is impossible, but you separate from them. Like the new Fleet Foxes song “You are not your season”, the day’s crazy emotion or thought is not who you are. This is easy to write about, in reality if we can “unhook” from our constant thought/daydreaming for mere seconds of every hour, that is game changing. This is hard! Stress wouldn’t exist if we were naturally monks who could never get wrapped up in emotion, but we evolved to survive not be blissful.
There are different categories(arbitrary) of stress management, first there are activities like exercise, meditation, etc. then there are monikers, and finally drills. We did in fact just make up those categories. Activities are typically straightforward, and the most evidence based. Monikers are generally unknown to the general public and never used, sadly being positive is not culturally very cool. Finally there are drills, interestingly humans are running negative drills constantly that undermine their peace of mind and destroy self esteem.
Let’s start with activities, one of the main reasons why exercise can be so powerful is the concept of little victories. When you are able to push yourself and get that run in or go to yoga before work, you have started the day with a win, giving you a boost chemically and psychologically. You are only as confident as your most recent achievement, and if your brain is dwelling on eating that pizza and skipping a run, you won’t have much confidence. Typically our emotions end up controlling our actions, we feel bad and talk ourselves out of running, luckily for us the process also works in reverse. If we can take action despite our emotions resisting we can change our emotions. If you press on and go for the run anyways, the results feel more rewarding, and you are in a positive mood.
The second activity is meditation. At the core of meditation, you are “expanding your window of tolerance of the human experience”. Think about the last time you had to pick up to-go food and had to wait in a restaurant. How many seconds did it take once you sat down to pull your phone out? That is your window of tolerance, you could only handle existing without distraction for that many seconds. Don’t feel bad, the largest companies in human history hire the greatest minds on earth to figure out how to make the cell phone more addicting than drugs or gambling. Effectively grinding our window of tolerance down to a nub. We recommend the Waking Up app, but no matter where you start, you can’t go wrong.
The next category is the use of monikers. Monikers and running mental drills are ways of describing automatic thought processes that already occur. The point is to use these processes to our advantage, as opposed to our detriment. If it has never occurred to you, we do not have control over our thoughts, they run rampant, changing sporadically like a toddler with the TV remote. Since we can’t stop thinking(we wouldn’t want to, thought is a great tool) we need to try and get a grip on this overpowered brain of ours. How? Self-talk. We are constantly thinking negative thoughts in our head and reinforcing negative beliefs. “I’m always late!” “I’m not good with numbers” “I’m super disorganized”. Why we do this comes down to survival, if you were nearly killed by another group, your brain tells you that you “do not fit in with them”. The problem is we are still telling ourselves these narratives in everyday scenarios. It is important to ask yourself the question “When did I start to believe that about myself?”
This biggest challenge with changing the way you talk to and about yourself is that it isn’t cool to be a positive person. Even though everyone hates negative people in particular, being positive is viewed as goofy or uncool. You will be set free when you take out that “cool card” you got at 13 and cut it. This isn’t a childish activity, start noticing the little degrading comments you feed yourself all day and see if you can swap them for something like “I feel healthy and confident” “I always work hard”, “If I work hard and treat people right, I believe thing will work in my favor”.
Next time you are nervous about something coming up, a big meeting, an interview, anything that makes you nervous, and watch how negative your thoughts are. More than likely you are picturing the worst scenario that could happen. This is where the mental drills come into play. Just like self talk, you are currently running mental drills naturally, but mostly negative drills that are causing you to dwell on past shortcomings. In the book Psycho Cybernetics(Tony Robbins inspiration) Dr. Maxwell Maltz puts the human brain and the computer side by side on problem solving. When a computer has a problem to solve, it goes back to its memory to see how it solved past problems and find the right solution. When we have a problem we also search our memories, however we only highlight failures. Imagine a computer that used past failed responses to problems, your computer would crash constantly. Again this is an old survival technique that we no longer need. Before going into an interview, picture it going perfectly. Use the theater of the mind to play through yourself nailing the questions and them responding positively. Research shows our brain responds to imagined scenarios the same as actual scenarios. Yes that’s right, visualizing is as powerful as actual practice.
While you are imagining the upcoming scenario, you should always have the cookie jar close by. This is a concept pioneered by the GOAT, David Goggins. Goggins is the world’s hardest man, after growing up with an extremely abusive father and getting extremely overweight, he became a Navy Seal and runs the world’s toughest long distance races. The cookie jar is where you keep all of your achievements and all the challenges you have overcome. Anytime a scenario is daunting reach into the cookie jar and remind yourself that you have done things tougher than this and come out on top. This is another reason exercise is so powerful, if going on a run at dawn is 10x more challenging than your upcoming meeting with your boss, you’ve just shrank the size of your anxiety and worry drastically by viewing it at scale. At scale means compared to everything else you’ve been through and overcome.
In conclusion, remember that while negativity is toxic as hell to others, at the end of the day you are only holding yourself back. Next time you find yourself in a pickle, with a broken down car or job troubles, objectively notice how negativity literally can NOT help the situation in any way, only make it worse.