How Do You Focus on Positive Responses to Stress?

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When we encounter stress, like financial, economic or business stress, we may respond positively and proactively or negatively. Negative responses include drinking, smoking, and comfort eating which can damage our health. How do you focus on positive responses to stress?

Notes from a conversation with Janis Pullen, Transformational Coach:

There are two aspects to stress management - the ontological, being side and the facilitative, doing side. On the ontological side, when people experience stress they seek comfort in activities that they associate with relaxation. This includes alcohol, tobacco and eating. These reactions are automatic, habitual, and predictable and can lead to unhealthy consequences. They disguise deeper issues.

The root of these behaviors is our real needs, for example the need to be comforted when we become fearful of the consequences of negative events or concerned that we are not good enough to prevail in a challenging environment. The alternative is becoming conscious of both our real needs and behaviors and to switch from automatic, unconscious negative reactions to conscious, proactive responses. When we become aware of a habitual response, we counter the habit with a conscious choice that is healthier and addresses our real needs.

Ontological techniques for countering automatic reactions and positively respond to stressors include recreating our relationship to time. In the U.S. we are very deadline oriented and may multi-task and work to the last minute to produce the best result. The alternative is to make time our ally, not our master. Plan work so that projects are 99% complete well before deadlines. Arrive at meetings 5 minutes early to get settled instead of entering in a rush. Plan time for nothing - even a 5-minute break with no pressure to "do" anything promotes ease and relaxation. Other techniques include:

* Becoming more aware of our needs and what we have to do to meet them. Often people are not in tune with their needs and operate on top of them. The positive alternative is to slow down, notice what is within and around us, and have the courage to fulfill our real, deeper needs.

* Taking responsibility. When we look for external causes for current issues, such as blaming people or situations, we give up our power and become victim. This negatively impacts our physical and mental states. The alternative is to be "at cause" rather than "at effect" to produce a constructive result.

* Realizing we are not alone. Employ assistance/guidance/mentorship to lighten your load.

On the facilitative side, we can counter our automatic responses to stress with constructive alternatives. One simple positive action is taking deep breaths when we become aware of high stress. This increases the oxygen in our blood, helps us to relax, and cools down our reaction.

* Exercise does wonders for shifting negative moods. Under stress, the body releases cortisol and adrenalin - the fight or flight hormones. Exercise increases endorphins, the "feel good" hormones, and reduces cortisol and adrenalin production. By changing our physical and hormonal balance, we positively adjust our mental state. A walk around the block is more effective for reducing stress than either drinking or grabbing a quick snack.

* Consciously eating whole versus processed foods and drinking more water helps our bodies to function more efficiently and helps us to more effectively deal with stress. Processed foods compromise our immune systems, and too much sugar muddles thinking. Eating berries and nuts is much healthier than sugar and other simple carbohydrates.

* Sleep is critical to effective physical and mental function. Alcohol consumption impairs sleep because it reduces the deep sleep cycles so we do not wake up refreshed and ready for a new day.

We can approach the world in two ways: We either take ownership of our own behaviors or perceive others as controlling us. By taking ownership of our behaviors, we see possibility and are more likely to connect with others who can help us along the way. We can view our world as a loving, friendly, and helpful place that evolves as it should. However, when we see ourselves as being controlled, we are likely to feel trapped or alone. Feeling alone increases fears and concerns. From this perspective our world can become a cold, dark, unfriendly, and frightening place.

The effective solution to stress is to focus on what is really happening and on our real needs, and to replace destructive behavior patterns with constructive alternatives.

About the Author:

Sandy McMahon is publisher of Ceo2Ceos (, a non-commercial site for executives to share best practices. He is also President of Executive Forums of Silicon Valley. With over 20 years of executive experience, Sandy has a BA from Brown, an EdM from Harvard, and an MBA from Duke.

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