Stress is an ever-present part of life today and we’re seeing it’s effects in our homes, schools and workplaces. While not all stress is bad (getting a promotion, buying a new home, etc.) the negative impacts of too much stress cause concerns that are well documented by health care professionals and media alike. While we all know we should be eating right, exercising more often and getting more sleep to help us manage the negative aspects of stress, it’s a leap to go from knowledge to action. To complicate matters there is the matter of boiled frogs. If you haven’t run into the “boiled frog” metaphor before it’s often used as a quick way to help people visualize the stealth aspects of stress. You start with water that is a very agreeable temperature for frogs and they are happy to be there, but over time the temperature of the water is slowed increased and as it increases the frog adjusts…until one day the water is boiling. Graphic? Yes. But relevant to many peoples lives concerning stress.
Stress tolerance is a component of emotional intelligence; our ability to manage both our own stress and that of others is key to navigating many complexities at work (and at home) and reducing their impact, which helps us to manage our stress rather then adding to it. There are all kinds of factors creating stress in our lives, some are situational (like a fender-bender on the way to work) and some are more systemic (facing ongoing financial pressures). We don’t have complete control over what is going to happen to us on a daily basis, but we can control how we react to whatever is coming next. As I am fond of saying, I can be very emotionally intelligent…until you rear-end my car. However, even here I have the opportunity to react in a way that will help foster a much better outcome and reduce the stress level in an unavoidable scenario. Whether we were responsible for the stress or not it’s important to remember that we always have the opportunity to effect the outcome. Remaining calm and working towards being objective go a long way to getting what everyone needs in any given situation.
So how do you do that? Especially when you take into account the “boiled frog” scenario which points to a more systemic version of stress? It starts by taking stock, to see if you are enjoying the quality of life/experience that you had identified for yourself. In one case my client was convinced she needed to change employers, so I worked with her to assemble all the factors contributing to her current situation. This ensured that in making any changes she would be able to address her areas of concern and would know what to look for in a more appropriate role. Through this process she discovered that, in fact, she was contributing to the majority of the factors that were making her current role untenable. By understanding that information she realized it wouldn’t matter what job she held, they would all end the same way. The way she approached her work was her “boiling water” and we then worked together to disassemble the constructs she put in place that made it so.
For another client is was recognizing his situational “tipping point” as his stress came not from an on-going concern over the quality of his work-life but a lack of consistent quality. Some days work was great and he loved it, at other times he felt despondent and overwhelmed by the competing demands. In examining his concerns more closely he was able to determine that the lack of consistency had a pattern to it; on-going and “known” work made him feel confident and gave him feelings of accomplishment. New work that came in was “dumped” on him and took him away from being able to perform well with the work he already had. Understanding that pattern allowed him to examine his own reactions to new work coming in and to work with his organization to ensure there was a better process in place to help all employees on the job (not just him) be able to absorb this type of new work in a more measured way. The outcome allowed him to experience more consistency at work; he still had slight feelings of dread when new work came in, but it was no longer overwhelming and he could excel at it. He also took a lot of pride in the fact that he was able to effect positive change for other staff members, and his organization as a whole, as they were now more effective with the new process in place.
These are a few examples of individuals who recognized they were sitting in “boiling water”. It’s not always easy to see (until you hit that “tipping point”) and once identified the contributing factors aren’t always apparent either. However, for anyone with the motivation to closely examine their stress points, using objectivity and an open mind, the outcomes can be very positive contributing to your emotional intelligence and over-all well being. So, what is the “water” like where you are?
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.