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Stress is killing me! – How to survive the stress of the modern world…

Stress is killing me! – How to survive the stress of the modern world…

Stress is a part of everyday life, the pace of everything we have to do is increasing, what is expected of us as human beings is expanding, yet we are still the same people we were yesterday. There is an expectation that we have to cope with an ever increasing level of stress, however we often do not have the tools and techniques to do so.

Recognising Stress

The first and most important thing to do is to recognise the signs of stress, feeling stressed can be accompanied by physical symptoms which can include feeling exhausted with low energy, headaches, upset stomach and chest pains.

However, stress can affect each of us differently, some people have a higher tolerance to certain types of stress, but we all have a point at which we are unable to cope. You need to recognise the point, at which you are beginning to lose control of your stress levels, as this is the stage you need to take action.

Step 1 – Find the breaking point

Only you will know what your stress triggers are. Some people will tell you that they ‘thrive on stress’, however you will find that they have other triggers. Try to become self-aware and recognise the moments when a certain stress is affecting you.

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A good technique to help you is to use a ‘mood graph’

mood-chart

    In my mood chart for today you can see that there were pressure points around the morning meeting and then a review meeting with my manager. It allows me to recognise, over time, what specifically is causing stress. Note this is a very quick scribble, you don’t need to spend ages drawing a special chart, just something that you can read!

    This does not have to be complicated, what you are trying to capture is the points in your day when you became angry, upset or stressed. Be conscientious for a week and track your mood every fifteen or twenty minutes and each time you have a particular stressful moment.

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    If you hit a high or low point make a note as to what caused it,  this will create a chart which illustrates your specific trigger points. In the next step we will look for ways to conquer these.

    Step 2 – Run away!

    Okay, I am not suggesting that you run from your home or office but, that you run away from whatever has triggered your stress. When you recognise what is causing your triggers and you have become stressed you need to stop and escape the moment.

    Stand up and walk away from whatever is happening, if you are driving find a safe place to stop, if you are in the office use the opportunity to step to the toilet or have a coffee break. If you cannot physically step away, take a moment, close your eyes and pause for just a second.

    Where you can, you are looking to create a physical space from your stress trigger and you. It is important to break the cycle when you can, as you become proficient at recognising what will trigger your stress, you can better prepare.

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    Stop! But I cannot run away.

    If you have been in a place where you cannot escape your stress triggers, including being in retail, where you cannot step away. You need to take yourself away mentally. We will discuss meditation techniques later, but in the immediate moment when someone is yelling at you remember. This is not personal, the individual is shouting at the brand or organisation and an outburst of anger is no different to a toddler having a tantrum, stamping their feet and waving their arms. Imagine the stressor as a toddler, let them run their course and behold their foolishness.

    Step 3 – Be mentally prepared

    Just as you would do a workout for your body, you need to do a workout for your mind. You need to develop a mindset which will allow you to be resilient and protect yourself from the effects of stress.

    1. Make time for you daily – first, set aside five minutes a day just for you. This is time away from your stress and only for you. During this five minute window your responsibility is to work for you.
    2. Find your happy place – close your eyes and think back to a place where you were truly happy. It may be the beach, a forest or even your bed, visualise this place. Think of every detail (what does it feel like, what does it smell like, feel the sand beneath your toes. Embrace every sense). While you do so touch your thumbs together. This will take practice, visit your happy place in your mind often, building your feelings of where it is and how it feels. Eventually (and yes, this will take some time and practice) the act of touching your thumbs together will create this feeling in your mind.
    3. Find a musical mantra – find your favourite piece of upbeat music (for me it is ‘Can you feel it?’ – By the Jackson Five). Listen to your mantra music before you enter a stressful environment, feel the upbeat music flow through you and feel upbeat in yourself. Again this will take practice, but with time you will find that this track will make you think of positive times and you can use it when you have a stress trigger point.
    4. Manage your breathing – follow some simple breathing exercises. Close your eyes, breath in through your nose, hold your breath for a count of ten and the slowly breath out through your mouth. Repeat this for a minute. Take your time, concentrate on slowing down your breathing.

    These techniques will build your resilience, allowing you to take a moment to escape when you cannot run away.

    Step 4 – Be physically prepared

    Look for opportunities to exercise, physical exercise reduces your body’s stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol as it increases your feel good endorphins.

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    You don’t have to go to the gym necessarily, a good brisk walk or some exercises in your home will help you. The action of making time for yourself and moving your body will make you feel better.

    Step 5 – Manage your pressure points

    When you know what causes you to feel stress look for ways to overcome them. ‘Easier said than done!’ You may say, however this is your life and you need to manage what is making you ill. It may require a drastic change such as a new job but sometimes such change is necessary.

    You should find that, when you recognise your stress triggers and have an improved mental and physical resilience, you will be better placed to cope with your stress.

    Step 6 – Get help

    If none of this improves your situation you need to look for help. This is not a failure on your part and there is nothing wrong in seeking professional advice. If you have followed the steps you should find that you have a better idea of your stress and a professional will be better able to help you.

    Above all you are not alone, your friends and family are there to support you, failing this, there are professionals who will help you.

    Good luck!

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    Published on June 30, 2020

    What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

    What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

    Many conversations are being held nowadays regarding unconscious bias, but what does it really mean and how can it affect your life and the people around you? With many types of biases, it can get quite confusing. In this article, we’ll touch on cognitive bias, and then zero in on unconscious bias. Both types of biases have an immediate impact on your life because they relate to how you and others think about yourself and other people.

    If you want to protect your relationships and make good decisions about other people, you need to know what these biases mean[1]. Once we have clarity about that, we can explore in more depth unconscious bias and how to address it[2].

    Cognitive Bias

    Let’s start with cognitive bias[3], a predictable pattern of mental errors that result in us misperceiving reality and, as a result, deviating away from the most likely way of reaching our goals[4].

    These mental blind spots impact all areas of our life, from health to relationships and even shopping, as a study recently revealed[5]. In other words, from the perspective of what is best for us as individuals, falling for a cognitive bias always harms us by lowering our probability of getting what we want.

    Cognitive biases have to do with judgment, not mood. Ironically, cognitive biases — such as the optimism bias and overconfidence effect — more often lead to positive moods. Of course, the consequence of falling into cognitive biases, once discovered, usually leaves us in a bad mood due to the disastrous results of these dangerous judgment errors.

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    Unconscious Bias

    Unconscious bias is different from cognitive bias. Also known as implicit bias, it refers to unconscious forms of discrimination and stereotyping based on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, age, and so on[6]. Despite cognitive biases sometimes leading to discriminatory thinking and feeling patterns, these are two separate and distinct concepts.

    Cognitive biases are common across humankind and relate to the particular wiring of our brains, while unconscious bias relates to perceptions between different groups and are specific for the society in which we live. For example, I bet you don’t care or even think about whether someone is a noble or a commoner, yet that distinction was fundamentally important a few centuries ago across Europe. To take another example, most people in the US don’t have strong feelings about Sunni vs. Shiite Muslims, yet this distinction is incredibly meaningful in many parts of the world.

    Unconscious Bias and Discriminatory Behavior

    Organizations often bring me in as a speaker on diversity and inclusion to address potential unconscious discriminatory behavior. When I share in speeches that black Americans suffer from police harassment and violence at a much higher rate than white people, some participants (usually white) occasionally try to defend the police by claiming that black people are more violent and likely to break the law than whites. They thus attribute police harassment to the internal characteristics of black people (implying that it is deserved), and not to the external context of police behavior.

    In reality – as I point out in my response to these folks – research shows that black people are harassed and harmed by police at a much higher rate for the same kind of activity. A white person walking by a cop, for example, is statistically much less likely to be stopped and frisked than a black one[7].

    At the other end of things, a white person resisting arrest is much less likely to be violently beaten than a black one. In other words, statistics show that the higher rate of harassment and violence against black Americans by police is due to the prejudice of the police officers, at least to a large extent[8].

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    However, I am careful to clarify that this discrimination is not necessarily intentional. Sometimes, it indeed is deliberate, with white police officers consciously believing that black Americans deserve much more scrutiny than whites. At other times, the discriminatory behavior results from unconscious, implicit thought processes that the police officer would not consciously endorse[9].

    After becoming aware that unconscious bias does exist, the next step would be learning how to recognize it in order to reduce it. I’ve outlined three crucial points to keep in mind below while further exploring the unconscious prejudice discussed above.

    How to Reduce Unconscious Bias

    Remember these three important points if you want to work on reducing your unconscious bias.

    1. Unconscious Bias is a Systemic Issue

    When we understand that unconscious bias is ultimately a systemic issue, we understand that internal cultures need to be checked and addressed first.

    Interestingly, research shows that many black police officers have an unconscious prejudice against other black people, perceiving them in a more negative light than white people when evaluating potential suspects. This unconscious bias carried by many — not all — black police officers helps show that such prejudices come – at least to a significant extent – from internal cultures within police departments, rather than pre-existing racist attitudes present before someone joins a police department.

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    Such cultures are perpetuated by internal norms, policies, and training procedures, and any police department wishing to address unconscious bias needs to address internal culture first and foremost, rather than attributing racism to individual officers.

    In other words, instead of saying it’s a few bad apples in a barrel of overall good ones, the key is recognizing that unconscious bias is a systemic issue, and the structure and joints of the barrel needs to be fixed[10].

    2. There Is No Shame in Unconscious Bias

    Another crucial thing that needs to be highlighted is that there is no shame or blame in unconscious bias as it’s not stemming from any fault in the individual. This no-shame approach decreases the fight, freeze, or flight defensive response among reluctant audiences, helping them hear and accept the issue.

    Unconscious bias is prevalent and often doesn’t match our conscious values. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs and prejudices stemming from our tendency to categorize people into social groups. This developed naturally as a way for our ancestors to quickly size up a possible threat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate well in modern life.

    3. It Takes a Sustained Effort to Prevent and Protect Against Unconscious Bias

    After being presented with additional statistics and discussion of unconscious bias, the issue is generally settled. Still, from their subsequent behavior it’s clear that some of these audience members don’t immediately internalize this evidence. It’s much more comforting for their gut reactions to believe that police officers are right and anyone targeted by police deserves it; in turn, they are highly reluctant to accept the need to focus more efforts and energy on protecting black Americans from police violence due to the structural challenges facing these groups.

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    The issue of unconscious bias doesn’t match their intuitions, so they reject this concept, despite extensive and strong evidence for its pervasive role in policing. It takes a series of subsequent follow-up conversations and interventions to move the needle. A single training is almost never sufficient, both in my experience and according to research[11].

    Conclusion

    The examples and points raised illustrate broader patterns you need to follow to recognize unconscious bias. Only by doing so will you be able to determine if, and what type of, intervention is needed to address it.

    Unfortunately, our gut reactions lead us to make poor judgment choices when we simply follow our intuitions. Unconscious biases are systemic and need to be addressed in order to make the best decisions[12].

    We need to learn about the kind of problems that result from unconscious bias. Then, you need to develop the right mental habits to help you make the best choices[13]. A one-time training is insufficient for doing so. It takes a long-term commitment and constant discipline and efforts to overcome unconscious bias, so get started now.

    More Tips on Overcoming Unconscious Bias

    Featured photo credit: M.T ElGassier via unsplash.com

    Reference

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