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Don’t stress less, stress better

This Stress Awareness Month (April 2018), transformational therapist, Shaldon Fitzgerald from Cape Town, puts the spotlight on the need for South African’s to change their negative relationship with stress. The World Health Organization calls stress ‘the health epidemic of the 21st Century’, and with more than 4.5 million South Africans suffering from depression. Factors including procrastination, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, fear and panic are adding to work-related stresses that are crippling output.

“The first thing to understand, is that we get good and bad stress, but people are quick to identify stress as an evil enemy that needs to be defeated, especially in the work space,” says Fitzgerald. Contrary to popular opinion about the link between stress and the modern workplace, Fitzgerald does not believe today’s offices are a leading cause of stress, as he does not feel there is much difference between how we work today and how we worked 50 years ago. “You are just a different cog in the same machine. Couple this with the personal limitations of this system, and some good old-fashioned office politics, and you have yourself a refreshing stress-cocktail,” says Fitzgerald.

The key to beating stress, Fitzgerald explains is having a good relationship with it. “Stress is a survival instinct, designed to keep us alive, so it can be a useful tool. It’s not something we are ever going to fully be able to overcome, so the only way to look after our well-being is to forge a better relationship with stress.”  One way to do this is to understand that the one thing that most consistently creates stress for us is change. Whether it’s changing jobs, relationships or moving to a new home, just knowing that we need to make this change as well as the actual process of change can create the most stress for us.  Fitzgerald highlights how human beings usually aim to make tomorrow look like yesterday as a way of safeguarding against change. So as much as we can repeat patterns and maintain the status quo, our bodies will choose to do that. In any environment where we are expected to learn new things, or step outside of our comfort zone, we immediately question whether we can survive this new thing, and stress is triggered.

Fitzgerald warns against falling into this pattern, because change means growth and opportunity. He points out that if there is change in your life, there is growth and you are moving forward, which is always going to cause some level of stress. “The only people who don’t have stress, are those who are living lives that are just going sideways, and those people are few and far between, because most of us are either going up or down and either way its stressful.”

Fitzgerald provides some insight into how to manage stress better so that you have a positive relationship with stress rather than a negative one.

Routine, routine, routine

Change is inevitable and is perceived by the mind as life-threatening.  If there is change happening in an area of your life, try keep things in other areas of your life as consistent as possible, i.e. stick with your routine. This way, in the midst of the disruptive change you may be experiencing at work, you have a safe space at home to relax and unwind. If you’re going through a divorce at home, it might not be the best time to change jobs. You need to find your peace and keep yourself stable during periods of change. Give yourself time to get through it, so you can go out and tackle something new.

Spend your emotional energy wisely

If you are working on improving an area in your life, e.g. alter your financial situation, get a promotion at work, etc., you are then opening yourself up to something different, so immediately that will create stress in your system, and come with an emotional cost. For example, if you are a salesperson who needs to make sales calls and allow yourself to be negatively affected by every call that didn’t go well, you are expending large amounts of energy which does not leave you with much left to accomplish anything else productive. If you can manage your stress better, a phone call can cost you one unit of emotional energy, instead of two units, because you know how to detach in a way that’s useful. If you learn these skills, you have more energy to go into new territory, and new territory leads to growth.

Body pointing technique

Put an end to believing that our mind, body and emotions are all separate. They are all connected, and the body pointing technique is a useful way to use this connection to alleviate stress. When you feel stressed, due to a thought your mind has presented, you will feel a sensation somewhere in your body. Thoughts connect to a set of emotions, that connect to physical sensations. Allow yourself to physically locate the most intense part of the physical sensation, place your fingers on the spot so that you can then separate from the mental force driving behind it. Your body will respond, and the mental aspect of your stress will start to shift.

Don’t fear your stress

Think about what is causing your stress and remind yourselves of the ways in which your stress may be due to your efforts to improve your life and situation. Never ignore your stress, understand that it is something that can be dealt with in a constructive way.

Follow @ShaldonGFitzgerald for more information


Eloise Pretorius – Weekdays 9am – 12pm Anchor, Smile 90.4FM