|There you are—stuck in traffic—again. All the lanes are jammed, and you can’t see anything! You start to worry about being late. Just then you hear a knocking sound coming from the engine. Is it the same knock that cost you $346 two weeks ago? On top of it all, it starts to drizzle—and traffic stops completely.“These people don’t know how to drive in the rain!” you think, glaring at strangers in the next car. You feel your neck and shoulders tighten; the throb in your right temple intensifies and spreads across your forehead. “My day is ruined,” your internal voice declares.And it may be. Stress is an internal response to an external event. Since the externals seldom change, how do we change our internal response? Pretend to love traffic jams? Not bloody likely.At WAR With Yourself
Stress is caused by resisting what’s going on. When we resist a traffic jam or a rude person or an uncomfortable situation, we respond with three emotions: worry, anger and resentment.
Notice the first three letters of those words describe the stress response perfectly: WAR, the war within you. If you look at your stress event, you will find that the worry, anger and resentment are not caused by a traffic jam. The traffic jam is merely the trigger that sets off those three emotions inside you. Let’s look at what the true causes may be.
- You worry about being late—where are you going? To a beloved, joy-filled place? Or to a place you’d rather not go, where you feel anxiety and pressure to perform?
- You feel anger at the mechanic who fixed your car, suspecting he didn’t really fix it. Is this suspicion familiar? Do you often mistrust people—and yourself?
- You feel resentment at “these people” who don’t know how to drive as well as you do. Are you often impatient with people who don’t do things exactly as you do?
The Pause That De-stresses
How can we learn to stop fuming and seething in line, and become the person pleasantly chatting with another person?
Let’s look at your first reaction: resistance. There is another reaction: The opposite of resist. Accept. I don’t mean, “Oh goody, traffic jam, oh boy!” I mean, “Ah, a traffic jam. That’s one of the things that drive me crazy, and here it is.” Use humor to accept. Once you accept a situation, you can act upon it. When you’re busy resisting it, you’re paralyzed.
When you accept, you can stop, look and listen. STOP means “push the pause button”. People have an internal “pause button” like the one on the remote control. You can push it and pause while you decide what course of action to take.
LOOK means to recognize and see this is one of your stress triggers, and you have a choice about whether or not to get upset. LISTEN means listen to your inner self which tells you what to do.
There are three alternative actions: adapt, alter or avoid. For the “traffic jam” example, you can eliminate the third one right away—“avoid”. Unless you have a James-Bond-type-car that will sprout wings and fly you over a traffic jam, you can hardly avoid traffic jams all the time.
“Adapt” means adapting yourself to the situation. Listen to entertaining audiotapes in traffic. One of the most useful adaptations is the cell phone—albeit the most expensive.
“Alter” means changing the situation. Finding alternative routes to main roads, starting your journey sooner. Your inner voice will tell you to adapt, alter or avoid. And you will no longer be all stressed up with no place to go.
Our guest contributor for this page is Mimi Donaldson. Mimi is the co-author of the new book, Bless Your Stress: It Means You’re Still Alive! and the best-selling book Negotiating for Dummies. Mimi has been exciting audiences in Fortune 500 companies for over 20 years.
You can contact Mimi at www.mimidonaldson.com or 310-577-0229.____________________________________