>Yesterday was not a good day.
It is sort of hard for me to put into words. I could rant and shout about a handful of things but at the end of the day I’m the one to blame for how I felt yesterday.
I don’t mean that in a touchy-feely, new-agey “I am in control of my own feelings” bullshit kind of way. I mean that in a “I have every right to be stressed and angry but I’m at fault for this situation” kind of way. That I have no one to blame except myself (mostly) doesn’t make me feel any better. In fact, I’d be willing to say that it makes me feel worse.
I wasn’t the only one having a stressful day yesterday. It was interesting to read a friend’s blog and realise I wasn’t the only one not enjoying their hump day. I’ve been thinking about the question he raised: How do you deal with (work) stress?
I assume we are talking about bad stress. There is a certain kind of stress that I actually find beneficial. It is the stress of being challenged. Stress caused by nerves because you have to do something new. Stress caused by excitement. Even certain anger or frustration is mostly beneficial – it can spur you to make improvements.
But bad stress… bad stress is bad. Bad stress eats at you and there isn’t much you can really do about it. The beyond-your-control stress. The no-way-out stress. The things-don’t-look-like-they’ll-ever-get-better stress.
I think I “deal” (I’m gonna use the term loosely here) with bad stress in the same way whether work causes it or I cause it or the dillhole at the front of the ticket line in the Southfields tube station causes it. Now, little stress (even little bad stress) can usually be dealt with by drinking a beer with a friend and having some laughs. But big bad stress takes a bit more to tame.
My first step is to isolate it. As the only stress I consider bad is usually caused by something beyond my control, I isolate it because I probably (especially at work) don’t have time to deal with it or to even react to it. So I put a fence around it and hope that it won’t escape.
The only problem I have with this first step is directly related to the size of my stress ball. If it is a big issue, it takes up more of my energy to contain it. Which doesn’t leave me much in the reserves to do what I need to do. So if I’m super-stressed, it puts a strain on the other things I need to get done.
The second step is to isolate me. I don’t work through things with other people; I resolve them within myself first. This usually involves going home, putting on jammy pants and curling up in front of a movie that I don’t really have to watch. Which leads to step three: not thinking about it.
Or at least, not directly. While I’m watching a movie that is the intellectual equivalent of eating white bread I don’t consciously think about what is actually bothering me. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not working through it somewhere in the bowels of my mind. Deep in the basement, the furniture is being moved around and some part of me is examining what has happened. A lot of the time during step three I end up dozing; neither watching the movie or really thinking about what happened that day.
Step four is to finally just give in and go to bed. Hopefully by that time I’ve been not thinking about… whatever… for long enough that it doesn’t keep me awake all night. If it does, I put the movie back on.
When I wake up, I usually feel better. I have a better focus on what has happened and a richer understanding of what the underlying issues really are. I often find that whatever has caused the stress (or anger, or frustration) is not really what the problem is. And it is during the not-thinking process and sleeping that I find what that underlying problem truly is.
This system works for me because I am, by nature, a “let fly without thinking” kind of person. By fencing off my stress and working it through, I’m less likely to say something stupid (or hurtful). It helps me focus who I should speak to and about what (assuming the problem isn’t actually me). If it was me that caused my current “beyond my control” situation (oh yah, I do that) then I have to start thinking of a plan that will help me out of that situation.
That’s what I did yesterday. And I realise today that the problem is really me and something I really ought to work on. Which isn’t really fun and I can’t claim to have the answer at my fingertips. It may require another jammy pants and cheesy movie night.
But the good thing is that by using this method I didn’t explode like I may have done in the past. I didn’t rant and scream and get my stress all over anyone else. Which is for the best… the kind of stress storm I would have unleashed yesterday would not have been pretty. At the very least, at least there weren’t any witnesses.