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March 25, 2015

Hello, Trailblazer!

For a few weeks recently, if someone asked me, “How are things going,” I was likely to respond with, “I feel like I’m riding a whirlwind.” There were no huge conflicts or serious challenges. But things kept showing up that required my attention and shook up my schedule.

One thing leads to another…
I thought things were finally settling down until a week ago Sunday, when I decided to mow my yard. The riding mower started right up and I drove it out of the garage. After I turned it off and gassed it up, it wouldn’t start. It sounded like the starter was ruined. I decided to ask my wife and son to help me roll it (1,200 pounds) onto the trailer. The boards in the trailer floor had splits and splinters, so I got out the plywood I had bought a few months back and had custom cut to place on top of the boards.

The plywood had expanded just barely enough not to fit. Just barely. Maybe a couple of millimeters. And as I walked on the trailer trying to put the plywood in place, a couple of the boards cracked – broke through.

Suddenly my week was in disarray. I needed to find a place to replace the trailer floor. I needed to get that done to be able to take the mower in. And we had just found out my wife’s car, at the collision repair shop after a parking lot hit-and-run, had a failed door latch and needed to go to the dealership once we picked it up from the collision shop.

It was like a game. How many afternoons could I free up in one week?

What is it with camels and straw?
We all have rough days, and sometimes rough weeks. The curious thing is, if the distress is caused by a major life disruption, like loss of a loved one or a health challenge or destruction of property, a lot of us might be better prepared to weather it. There are a lot of self-care skills that we can call on. We cut ourselves slack, reach out for support, and rearrange our priorities.

But when the distress is caused by a collection of minor events, a “death of a thousand cuts,” we are less likely to have a strategy ready to employ. We figure that since individually none of the events is a big deal we should just “soldier on” and tough it out.

I encourage you to develop a strategy for the times in your life when the minor nuisances accumulate and build up pressure. Trust me. Trust my wife and my son. if I had thought about this before the whirlwind showed up, I’d have been a much calmer, more agile person.

5 Ways to Zap the Stress of a Thousand Nuisances

Here are five ideas to consider as you design your strategy for managing the stress that piles up one minor nuisance at a time.

Check the Self-Pity and Replace with Self-Compassion. When the frustration builds, it’s easy to fall into self-pity. And when you feel sorry for yourself, it’s easy to engage in self-indulgence: lots of chocolate, a drink or two more than usual, skipping tedious chores, and so forth.

When you notice self-pity (I usually hear myself whining), replace it with self-compassion. Self-compassion is having a kind, gentle response to yourself. Through the lens of self-compassion, you don’t seek self-indulgence to soothe your stress with sensory pleasure. You seek self-care to decrease the stress, lift your mood, and restore your inner resources.

Get out into Nature. For most of us, being in nature is a calming experience. Something as simple as a walk along a tree-lined sidewalk can be enough, but having a nature trail or a park you can visit is always a good plan. If you can be near water, whether, creek, river, lake, or ocean, that’s probably an extra benefit.

Of course there are times that getting outdoors may actually add to the stress, such as during the recent heavy snowfall winter in parts of the U.S., or during the heat of a summer day across the south and southwest. In that case it’s good to know where you can find a tempered way to connect with nature, such as a shopping area or mall with water and plants. If push comes to shove, have photos and videos available you can turn to.

Tend to Your Willpower. Willpower is your ability to resist temptation or to make yourself do things you would rather not do once you decide they’re good for you. It’s the ability to choose and act rather than react, especially to choose something very different from the reactive impulse that shows up in a situation.

World-renowned willpower researcher Roy Baumeister has shown us that willpower is basically an energy supply in the brain that can be depleted with use, takes time to charge back up, and can also be strengthened over time. Resisting temptation depletes willpower. Paying focused attention depletes willpower. And enduring stress depletes willpower.

When you are under a long period of stress, your willpower is likely to be lower. Notice this and avoid making decisions when you are tapped out. Avoid tempting situations when your willpower is low. And plan to spend time with your loved ones before the end of the day when you have nothing left to give and feel like a grouchy hermit.

During a time of ongoing stress, plan to eat healthy food on a regular schedule. Avoid high sugar foods. Instead choose proteins and foods with natural sugars and healthy fats. You need the calories to keep the willpower up, but sugar highs and crashes deplete willpower.

Get Your Body Moving. People who know me well are going to give me “the look” when they read this. I’m a moderately active person, not one to crave aerobic exercise. I walk regularly for exercise but don’t understand jogging, and it’s so long between bike rides for me the tires always need to be aired up when I’m ready to ride.

However, physical activity is a great way to release the pent-up energy from stress. Sustained activity also triggers biochemical responses that shift your mood towards calm and content. Get your heart rate up and burn some energy.

Prioritize Your Positivity. In Positive Psychology, positivity refers to positive emotions, not to positive thinking. Ignoring negative thoughts and trying to think only positive thoughts is unrealistic and not really helpful. However, cultivating positive emotions is immensely beneficial.

Researcher Barbara Fredrickson has demonstrated that increasing positive emotions leads to improved relationships, improved physical health, greater resilience, and greater well-being. We can increase our experience of positive emotions by taking time to notice them (they tend to be subtle), by savoring them when they show up, and by seeking out experiences that generate them. Plan specific opportunities to immerse yourself in curiosity, awe, amusement, pride, gratitude, serenity, joy, inspiration, hope, and love.

Application: Sketch out quick steps you can take based on each of these five approaches. Keep them handy as a list, or get creative and write each idea on a strip of paper and keep them in a basket or a jar. When you notice the stress building, try one of the quick steps.

Questions: Which tip seems like the quickest path to calm and ease for you? Suggestion: Make that your go-to stress reliever. How can you tell when your stress level is building? Suggestion: Notice where and how stress shows up in your body.

Child psychologist Haim Ginott taught parents, “You can act a little better than you feel, but only a little.” It’s an important reminder that we need to tend to self-care. We can’t fake it well, and we can’t fake it for long.

I’m doing better with the piled up nuisance stress in my life since I started remembering to use these stress relieving ideas. And I got a bit of good news. Turns out the mower wasn’t broken. The battery was just low. It’s working great!

May you be agile on your trail.

Take Care,

Stephen Coxsey, MA, LPC, PCC
Positive Psychology Coach
Developing Leaders and Self-Leaders

About Steve Coxsey

Steve partners with people who have a compelling vision and are committed to turning it into reality. They carry the responsibility for results, whether it’s leading organizations, running their businesses, advancing their careers, or guiding their families. Often it’s a combination of roles that compete for their time and attention.

Through coaching and training powered by neuroscience and positive psychology – the science of thriving – Steve’s clients design and implement a customized plan for success, well-being, and fulfillment, both for the clients themselves and the people they lead and influence. They develop motivation, agility, endurance, and resilience to thrive on a personally meaningful path and instill a culture of thriving in the communities they lead.

Steve helps his clients develop self-leadership so they can express the best of who they are in how they act and what they do. He encourages them to cultivate their strengths and talents so they can take ownership of their productivity and creativity.

As a result, they excel in their work and grow as leaders. They become powerful, breaking free of other people’s boxes and cubicles. The live and work in alignment with who they really are, defining success in terms of their own values, beliefs, and purpose. They have a vision for the future based on their core values and principles and can bring their vision to life through leadership.

Would you like that to be you?

Are you ready for a creative, dynamic, collaborative partnership focused on turning your vision into results?

Get started with a no-risk 30-40 minute consultation. It’s complimentary, so all it will cost you is a little bit of time. You can schedule the complimentary call using this online tool. You can also call 817-416-8971 or e-mail Steve@SteveCoxsey.com to set up the call.

Click here for more information than you could possibly ever want to know about Steve.

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