A Coaching Power Tool Created by Lay Li Tan
(Career Coach, SINGAPORE)
Life can be pressurizing and stressful. Every day, we try to fulfill the roles in our lives as a responsible parent, outstanding employee, caring wife or husband and filial son or daughter. Not all expectations can be met. Not everything can be controlled and planned. We all have our own values and goals that are different from others. This creates conflicts, disagreements and disappointment. This leads to stress and pressure.
Most of us do not differentiate the meaning of the word “stress” from “pressure”. We tend to use the words interchangeably to illustrate the anxiety from work or living. However, there is a difference between the word, “pressure” and “stress”. Pressure is a way of living where you feel that you have too many things to do. It is normally a temporary situation. For instance, deadlines are tighter than what a person can cope comfortably. It is pretty common among accountants when they need to prepare for financial reporting. For school-going children, it can be the last 2 weeks before an important exam. It can also be pressure given by self or third party in meeting an expectation in result or outcome of a task that is temporary. Pressure can be a positive phenomenon that leads to greater creativity, results and accomplishment. It can create momentum and focus in a given area. It creates urgency to attend an issue first. However, it may not be the most important task or area in a person’s life.
Stress is a continuous feeling of worry about your work or personal life that prevents you from relaxing. It tends to be over a longer period of time. When people are stressed they exhibit physical symptoms dangerous to their health. These could be anxiety, depression, eating or drinking disorder, lack of sleep, nausea or skin condition. Stress can be caused by a variety of things such as feeling that things have got out of control, lack of confidence or low self-esteem.
At work, stress can be result of not being able to focus on the areas that are important in our life. The constant need to travel for work can create stress in the family life as a working mother is not able to attend the needs of young children at home. On the other hand, she felt the financial need to support the family and guilt about taking time off for self.
Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion. Simon Sinek
At home, stress can also be caused by unexpected event e.g. death of a family member, divorce, serious illness of a key dependent. This event has a long term impact on support or financial situation in a family.
Pressure can become stress when you are not able to prioritize your time over long period of time. You are in constant state of meeting your deadlines or demands at the workplace that you do not have time to think of how things can be improved. We see the situation as uncontrollable and helpless.
Stress and pressure can be results of fear. Fear can be caused by fear of failure, embarrassment, disappointment or previous experiences. A kid can pressurized to study as he is afraid to fail an exam. An executive can feel pressurized to do a presentation as he fears to embarrass himself in front of others. A widow can feel stressed when the sole breadwinner is no longer around. Stress can also cause physical toll on our body e.g. insomnia, eczema, hair loss etc. These symptoms should not be ignored. Changes in perspective, lifestyle and career will be necessary depending on the cause.
Strategies to manage stress
Stress is not what happens to us. It is our response to what happens. And response is something we can choose. Maureen Killoran
There may not be a need to manage it if we see it positively. Stress can be an impetus that helps us grow and achieve our goal more quickly if we embrace it. More often than not, it is during this stressful period that helps us achieve much more in our life.
♦ Do something that you enjoy
It can be shopping. It can be keeping a pet or watching a movie. Different people enjoy different activities. Focus on the experience and not the material things you have. Review your schedule and plan how much time and when you can spend time doing a thing or hobby you enjoy.
♦ We do not have to be perfect
I am enough. I am enough as a spouse, child of my parent and employee. Once there is acceptance of who we are, our fear is reduced. We accept mistakes and failures after we have tried our best. There will be fewer expectations of ourselves to do a perfect presentation, meet all deadlines and meet obligations from others. We make the best out of a situation instead of worrying about thing that cannot be controlled. We expressed affirmations and gratitude of areas that have gone right.
♦ Sharing your concerns
Sometimes we feel the need to accept the responsibility given by our manager. This may result in stress as there are other priorities or exigencies in our life that the manager is unaware of. Discuss with the manager your challenges or concerns. Be ready to come out with alternative solution or views on what can be done to help the situation. Let go of the guilt that you are not able to deliver the responsibility as given. When you are in control, you will give so much more and possibly avoid the disappointment in the long time.
♦ Enjoy the journey and not just the achievement
Have a growth mindset instead. Focus on growth or learning you made in your life. Lead a desire to learn. Put the focus on the process and progress you have made instead of the results. You review the process on how you can be better instead of areas that you are lacking. With that, you will learn to embrace challenges and see effort as the path to mastery.
♦ What’s importance for you
What are your values? Spend time thinking about what are your goals and why are they important. It should not be what’s important to others or how the society view success but how you define your life. How much time do you spend doing things that are important to you. Explore the possibilities. Some options or paths may not be easy to take but the process of thinking through the possibilities is important. It reveals that choices are available. With the choices, you can understand the criteria that used to evaluate them. Are these criteria important or urgent? Important is not the same as urgent. Urgent needs to be attend to immediately. Important tasks are typically in alignment with your values. More often, we tend to focus on the urgent matters and forget about our long term goals in life.
♦ Change your perspective about stress
Instead of trying to reduce your stress, why not see it as a necessary response for your body to rise up to the challenge. Research has shown that changing our perspective about stress will change our physical response. When you view stress positively, your body believes you; your stress response will be healthier.
♦ Hug someone
Oxytocin is produced when a person feels stressed. It makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family. Not only do you get more motivated to seek support, you are more likely to be willing to help others. Hug your loved ones when you are feeling stressed. It is your stress response and you will recover faster from stress. This stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.
Understand yourself. How much time do you spend doing things you enjoy? What is the level of stress you are experiencing right now? How do you view stress? In a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rate your stress? How has stress help you positively and negatively? How do you view challenge? Do you think they create stress?
Application to coaching
The client is more likely to share the issue or trigger that is causing the stress in his life. As a coach, we need to listen attentively if he is under tremendous stress in his life. Understand the client’s perspective of stress. Explore with the client what can be the different techniques to manage stress.
Explore the situation that may be causing the stress:
- What would be the worst thing that could happen by doing or saying this?
- What evidence do you have?
- What logic is there in that answer?
- What would be the worst thing that could happen if you do not do this?
- What do you lose from this?
- What could you gain from this?
- What can you learn from this experience?
- How are my choices or options in managing the situation?
Be aware that some of the answers to questions may be deeply rooted in the client and might elicit emotional responses. Significant situations can put heaviness and create stress. Each client is different and working your client to discover the suitable strategy will empower him to reduce stress. Supporting the client in understanding what causes the stress and their perspective of it can help to manage stress.
As a coach, we need to be aware of our role and expertise. If you sense that your client is experiencing extreme feeling of stress or depression, you may want to refer them to other professional support. It is important to follow up and communicate alternative support accordingly.
50 top tools for coaching, Gillin Jones and Ro Gorell.
Growth Mindset, Dr Carol S Dweck.
How to make stress your friend, Kelly McGonigal