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Deconstructing Your Stress



Most of you are done or almost done with the spring term, so you have a bit more bandwidth to reflect. But whether you’re excited about the summer down time or ramping up for your busy season, it’s always a great time to be less stressed. Today I want to walk you through a way to deconstruct the things that are causing you stress, so you can actually make those things less stressful in the future.


We’ve talked about the impact of stress many times in my articles. And in a nutshell, chronic stress is not helping anyone – not you, not your team, not your students, no one. In fact, it kind of messes up everything. That’s why I talk about it so much. Yes, we live in a world where stressors seem to lurk around every corner, but that doesn’t mean they’re inevitable or there’s nothing you can do to mitigate those stressors. That’s what we’re going to do today.


The very first thing you need to do is pick ONE thing that stresses you out. And for those of you who have trouble deciding, it doesn't matter what you pick. There is no wrong answer. I’m going to walk you through how to deconstruct ANY stressor, so this is about getting comfortable with the process. Something simple, like, “Brenda is always 5 -10 minutes late to work, and it drives me nuts,” is totally fine. In fact, I’ll use this as my example throughout this process. Basically, if something causes you stress in some way, it will be useful for our purposes.


If you’re reading this on the go, I encourage you to sit down later and go through everything again when you have longer to reflect and can write things out. Thinking is a great first step, but writing things out helps your brain better process information. In fact, I’ve created a worksheet to help you do just that. If you’re already on our mailing list, you’ll get it in this week’s newsletter. If you’re not, you can both get on our newsletter and get the worksheet here - https://strengthsu.kartra.com/page/deconstructyourstress.


Okay, now that you’ve selected your stressor, let’s deconstruct…


STEP 1 | UNCOVERING WHY THIS STRESSFUL

The first thing you’re going to do is figure out why this thing, project, or person is so stressful to you. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the stress response itself, that you don’t actually know WHY that thing bothers you so much. You just know you hate it and wish it would stop.


And you might be thinking, well ____ is inherently stressful for everyone. I mean who isn’t stressed out when an angry parent calls or you have to do your taxes? Yes, there are some things that many people find stressful, but there are absolutely folks who don’t mind talking to angry parents or doing their taxes. In fact, some people might actually enjoy the challenge. How can that be? Because we all have different talents, knowledge, and skills. What’s stressful for you might be easy for someone else and vice versa. Ultimately, the thing that causes any situation to be stressful, is your ability to confidently navigate it.

So, what makes the thing you selected stressful for you? I’m going to lead you through a few prompts to help you figure this out.


What stories do you have around it?

We’ve talked about stories before – aka your beliefs. Very often, it’s the stories we have about a situation or person that make them become stressful for us. There are three types of stress – physical, chemical, and emotional. It’s the emotional type that typically gets in our way. Our stories fuel our emotions and kick us into a stress response around what we BELIEVE is happening.


For example, this business with Brenda being late. What beliefs might you have about punctuality that might be causing your stress? Do you think being late means Brenda doesn’t care about her job or that she’s lazy? Do you have stories about your role as a supervisor? Like, Brenda being late means you’re not doing your job? Or maybe you’re worried the other employees are judging your abilities because they also see her coming in late. Or maybe you worked with someone in the past who was always late and had other negative characteristics, so you’re projecting your feelings about them onto Brenda.


I know this concept is a bit abstract. Our stories are housed in our subconscious, so they don’t always seem obvious to our conscious self. If you’re wondering what your stories are around something, try telling yourself, “Hey just calm down already. _____ isn’t even a big deal.” There will be a voice in your head that immediately tells you EXACTLY why this IS a big deal. Those are your stories.

 

Once you know what your stories are, you can start to assess whether they’re useful or even true. Now as you’re assessing these stories, it isn’t about justifying your feelings or trying to find an excuse to get rid of them. It’s about honestly assessing the thing(s) that might be driving your feelings about the situation. Those stories may accurately sum up the situation, but there’s a good chance you’re missing part of the picture.  


It could be that no one except you cares that Brenda is late. Perhaps, it doesn’t impact anyone else or the quality of her overall performance. It’s just that you have a story running through your brain that says being late is bad because of _____. In this situation, making this situation less stressful for you is as easy as upgrading your stories/beliefs.


Or maybe Brenda being late is indeed problematic. Her tardiness means other folks on the team, including yourself, have to pick up the slack until she arrives. That is something that needs to be addressed from a performance management standpoint. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but if that is the case, then the stressor isn’t really Brenda being late, but rather that you haven’t addressed her behavior, right? She’s just doing what she always does and it’s up to you as the supervisor to address it. If that’s the case, then look at the stories you have around your ability to hold your team accountable or to confront others.


As you can see, we can easily attribute our stress to a person or situation, but the thing that’s really causing us the stress is your own ability to navigate that situation. I mean if Brenda would just be on time, you wouldn’t have to face the fact that you aren’t comfortable having those conversations or that you’re not sure you even know how to effectively supervise your team, right?


How are your Talent Themes showing up around this stressor?

We’ve also talked about talents and Talent Themes before. Specifically, we’ve gone over how your talents can be your biggest superpower or our kryptonite. That means that your talents can absolutely help you get where you want to go, but they can also get in your way. And remember, your talents impact your thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Your talents or Talent Themes are absolutely coloring your stories, as well as your behaviors around this stressor. So, think about how your Talent Themes show up around this person or situation.


An easy way to do this is to ask yourself these two questions…


  • How might my talents be getting in my way here?

  • How are my talents helping me navigate this?

 

Back to Brenda. If I think about myself, how might my talents help me or get in my way in this situation. First, let’s assume I’ve assessed my stories and realized that Brenda’s tardiness is, in fact, negatively impacting the team. Then how might my talents be contributing to my stress?


I have Intellection, so it’s not uncommon for me to retreat into my mind to run through how to handle such a situation. But if I’m not careful, I can get stuck there. In other words, thinking about dealing with the situation FEELS like I’m dealing with the situation even though I haven’t actually DONE anything. So, day after day, Brenda keeps coming in late and I’m attributing that to her behavior, when my own behavior is the problem. In that situation, my Intellection would be getting in my way and adding to my stress.


I also have Adaptability, which allows me to be flexible and see the pros of many different options. So, on one hand, I might rationally know that Brenda’s behavior is problematic for the team, but I can justify in my head why she’s coming in late and why maybe it’s not such a big deal. And because I keep wavering, the problem persists and continues to be a stressor for me.


Now just like with stories, step one is to identify which Talent Themes are getting in my way and contributing to my stress. Step two is to think about how I can use my talents to make the situation LESS stressful.


So, which of my Talent Themes might help me navigate the issue with Brenda? Well, I have Strategic. I know that from a strategic perspective, allowing Brenda to continue to be late is negatively impacting the team, which is going to impact their engagement and productivity which I don’t want. I also have Ideation, so I’m all about coming up with creative solutions to problems. While a discussion calling Brenda out feels stressful for me, inviting her to discuss ways to resolve the issue would be something I’d enjoy. When I lean into those Talent Themes, I’m motivated to act and resolve the situation.  


What knowledge or skills do you need to better manage this stressor?

The next thing you need to think about is what knowledge or skills you are lacking that makes this stressor difficult to navigate. Again, this isn’t about judging yourself. It’s about assessing where you need to grow. You know a ton and have many skills. But the reason this person, thing, or situation is challenging to you may be because you don’t know a crucial piece of information that would change how you approach it. Likewise, maybe you know what you SHOULD be doing, but you just haven’t had the opportunity to develop a skill that would allow you to easily implement it.


Let’s go back to Brenda. At this point in my life, I’ve had training on how to effectively manage my team’s performance AND have had the opportunity to develop my skills in doing so. Looking at this situation, I might still be triggered by some inaccurate stories or default to a talent that isn’t serving me, but I can pivot and lean into my training and experience. And this is a situation where clear expectations and accountability can both prevent and solve the issue.


But when I first started in Higher Ed, no one shared that information or even knew it themselves to help me learn how to navigate such issues. I wouldn’t have known what to do. I would have been stressed because I didn’t know an effective way to deal with this. Likewise, since I didn’t know how to handle it, I couldn’t start to develop the skills I needed to deal with Brenda or any subsequent Brendas I encountered.


Ask yourself, what information or skill would allow you to better navigate this situation? Remember, the issue isn’t that you’re not capable of dealing with this. It’s only the YOU who doesn’t know ____ or know how to ____ that finds this situation stressful. Once you gain that knowledge and develop ____ skill. THAT YOU will be better able to navigate situations like this and your stress will decrease.


And this can be challenging because you often don’t know what you don’t know. All you sometimes know is that there’s a pain point. It might be helpful to ask others here, but keep in mind that if the person you ask finds the same thing stressful, they might have the same blind spots. So, think about what you DO know and ask yourself where the gap is in addressing it. If you’ve established that Brenda’s tardiness is indeed problematic, then what don’t you know or know how to do that’s keeping you from addressing the issue?


Maybe it’s that you don’t know what to say. Maybe the thought of confronting anyone, much less Brenda, makes you feel so overwhelmed that you can’t act. Maybe you’ve got so much on your plate that you don’t feel like you have time to address it. Those aren’t excuses. They’re hints about what you might be missing. And again, this isn’t about judging yourself for falling short. No one automatically knows everything. No one automatically knows how to do everything. This is about identifying what you can invest in, so you grow as a professional AND are less stressed. Win-win.


STEP 2: CREATING A GAME PLAN

Now that you’ve had a chance to reflect on how your stories and talents might be getting in your way, and what skills or knowledge you might be missing, it’s time to create a game plan. Reflecting is the first step, but don’t get caught in your head like I sometimes do with my Intellection. Put those new insights into action, so you can upgrade how you navigate this stressor. Again, if you’d like a worksheet to help you do this, here - https://strengthsu.kartra.com/page/deconstructyourstress.


First, select one of the stories that seems to be getting in your way. What’s an alternate story that would help you with this situation? I’ve discussed what this means in other articles, but in a nutshell, what would allow you to either act to reduce the stress OR change your perspective so that it’s simply not stressful.


For example, let’s say I determined that on but me cares about Brenda being late. Instead of telling myself that lateness is a sign that Brenda doesn’t care about her job, I could challenge that by remembering all the examples of times Brenda has demonstrated she DOES care about her job. Armed with that new information, I can upgrade my story to something like, “Sometimes people are late, but as long as it doesn’t interfere with their ability to do their job or negatively impact others, that flexibility will allow them to be more productive.”


Now, you’re still likely going to default to the original story, because it’s been programmed into your subconscious for so long. But now that you have the alternate one ready to go, when it does pop up you can remind yourself that’s not what you believe in anymore. Now you believe, (insert alternate story here).


Second, now that you’ve thought about the Talent Themes that are getting in your way here, what Talent Themes could you lean into that might help you better navigate the situation. Select at least one and write down exactly how it can help you. When this stressor rears its ugly head, you have a game plan to intentionally use the Talent Themes that are more likely to help you in this situation. And just like with your stories, you may very well default to the talents that aren’t helpful. But the trick is to pivot once you realize you’re going down that old, familiar path.


Finally, choose at least one thing from your reflections on your knowledge and skills. How can you learn what you don’t know? How can you develop one of the skills that would allow you to navigate this situation more successfully? Maybe it’s reading a book. Maybe it’s connecting with someone who does know or who has that skill. Maybe it’s going to workshop. Maybe it’s registering for the Supervisor Strengths Institute or another program.


Again, knowing what you’re missing is just the first step. You need to have a plan to increase that knowledge and develop those skills or you’re going to experience the same amount of stress around that issue. So, be specific.


If I need to develop my skills around holding folks accountable, I might buy “The Assertiveness Workbook” by Dr. Randy Paterson. But if all my unread books on my shelves have taught me anything, I can’t stop there. I need to schedule time to read it AND do the exercises. I need to give myself a deadline, as well. Plan out whatever you need to so that you get into action around this new knowledge or skill.


When you take the time to work through these elements, you’ll find that you have the ability to turn the tables on things, people, or situations that you once found stressful. And the great thing is, you can do this with almost any stressor. Yes, there may be systemic problems that you can’t necessarily fix, but you can change your mindset or remove barriers that you didn’t even know were there.


So, as you’re either winding down for the summer, or ramping up, take a few minutes to reflect on your relationship with something or someone that’s stressing you out. Then create a game plan to upgrade your response to that thing or person. Doing so will allow you to feel less stressed and more empowered in your daily life.

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