• Thrive Inc.

Dealing with Stress When the Stressor Won’t Go Away

Right now, it feels like we are all emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted from dealing with COVID. Even with talks of a vaccine, the problem isn’t going to go away right now. For many of us, COVID might be the stressor, but it isn’t the real problem. The real issue is the stress it creates and how we deal with that stress.

Whether nobody’s wearing masks, you found out your business is going to shut down, or you’re simply tired of the endless Zoom meetings, all of these things are stressors, and unless you find a way to deal with the stress that comes from them, you’re likely to start suffering from burnout.

In this episode, we’re discussing the effects of stressors and how we can take care of ourselves when the stressors don’t go away. We're highlighting ways that stress can stay in our bodies if we don’t process it, and sharing some simple but effective ways you can discharge stress and revitalize a sense of resiliency in your relationship, team, or life.

If you want to make a difference for either yourself and your career, or your team and your organization, be sure to reach out to us and sign up for coaching! We can come and do a book club or simply visit with your team! Don’t worry about physical limitations – we work really well virtually, too!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Listen on Apple Podcast | Stitcher | Spotify

Learn More:

  • What COVID fatigue is and why you might be feeling it.

  • How to deal with ongoing stressors in your life.

  • What burnout is and why it’s harmful.

  • How your physical work environment may have helped you destress, and how to get the same effect from a virtual environment.

  • Why you might suffer from emotional exhaustion.

  • How to deal with stress in your team or business.


Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. I am CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan.

CrisMarie: We run a company called Thrive Inc, and we specialize in conflict resolution, stress management coaching and building strong, thriving teams and relationships.

Susan: Now, we know, no one likes conflict, not even us and we’ve written two books on the topic. In our work over the last 20 plus years we’ve found most people avoid, manage or diffuse conflict. The problem is when you opt out of conflict in these ways you miss the creativity, the connection and the possibility that lies in conflict.

CrisMarie: We also know 2020 has been, well, let’s face it, a stressful year. And what Susan and I realized is all the tools that we’ve developed and utilized around conflict apply directly to uncertainty, which is what we’re living in now.

Susan: In this podcast we have tools; concept and interviews that will help you cope with the stress and uncertainty of conflict, of Covid, of social justice issues and, yes, even politics. We hope you’ll walk away from this episode with some fresh ideas that change your day, your week and even your life.

CrisMarie: Today we’re going to talk about stress, when the stressor just won’t go away.

Susan: And some of that has come up for us because right now we are dealing with what I think the papers call and the news calls Covid fatigue. And maybe that’s a great name for it. But it’s also a sign of what we refer to also as burnout, in some respect we are burnt out.

CrisMarie: Emotionally exhausted.

Susan: Mentally exhausted, physically exhausted from dealing with Covid. And yet here’s the deal, Covid isn’t going away, even if we get these vaccines out and stuff like that, it’s not going away right away. And Covid indeed may be the stressor and the problem but it’s not, really it’s not. We think the real problem is the stress it creates and how we are dealing with that stress.

CrisMarie: So we’re going to talk on today’s podcast about how, when the stressor doesn’t go away, how can you take care of yourself? Because we are still going to live and breathe, and take one step forward and we want to give you tools to support you. And we’re going to talk first about just the idea of burnout, because it is about emotional exhaustion.

And Emily and Amelia Nagoski, they wrote a book called Burnout. They’re two sisters, they’re twins. Fascinating. But when they described burnout they talked about emotional exhaustion. They also talked about depersonalization, you lose empathy and also the sense of hey no matter what I do I’m not making a difference. So that’s their definition of burnout.

But what we really latched onto and thought was very powerful was this idea of emotional exhaustion being you get stuck in a feeling. And you’re not aware because we’re not too attuned to that feelings actually, most of us, we know this Susan and I, that feelings live in the body.

But often what people do is they get stuck in a feeling so they never complete this arc of this feeling. And what you need to do is one, feelings live in the body, they have a beginning, middle and end. And you have to go through them to get through the tunnel. And if you do then you’ll see that light at the end of the tunnel, otherwise you get stuck in the dark.

Susan: So we really think that this is critical right now with what’s going on in the world be because I bet in any given day all of us are dealing with some sort of emotional residual, something coming up during the day. Maybe it’s that all the people around you will not wear a mask. Or maybe it’s because you found out that your business is going to have to shut down. Or the San Francisco 49ers don’t have a place to play football. I mean it could be any one of those.

CrisMarie: Or you’ve been on one Zoom meeting or Teams meeting from 6:00am to 6:00pm, you haven’t had a break.

Susan: All of these things are stressors and unless you actually find a way to deal with the stress that comes up from those, you’re likely to start suffering from Covid fatigue, burnout or whatever you want to refer to it as from this experience that we’re having right now.

CrisMarie: We were keynotes at the Montana Health Summit and we listened to the other presenters. And this one gentleman, he deals a lot with the caretaking industry, so healthcare and all sorts of non-profits that take care of people.

And one of the things he found is that when somebody was stressed they’d be like, “Well, let’s send them home”, before Covid “to get a massage or do self-care.” And he’s like, “That doesn’t work.” Because when you’re going through stressful events, if you – especially in a business or an organization, if you don’t actually debrief that together you’re not really helping people recover their resiliency to deal with what’s next.

And it’s so interesting, when we work with teams we have found that taking the time to even – when there’s been an event, talk about, “Well, what worked, what didn’t?” That emotional, they wouldn’t say it’s emotional processing by the way.

Susan: Well, maybe, but it is. And the ironic thing about it is most business teams want to fix the problem or let’s figure out what we’re going to do, what action are we going to take? Which there are times when maybe that’s exactly what you need to do. However, whether you do that or not you still have to deal with the impact that it’s had on people and the way they are coping with it. And usually it’s not about fixing it for those people; it’s about listening to them. I mean we deal with this in change and transition in businesses all the team.

You’re not going to go back to the old way, but you do need to let people have their feelings about what they’re letting go of, the loss, the various things. Same is true today with Covid, there’s been a lot of loss, there’s been a lot of emotional issues that have come up. And if we don’t give people the chance to talk we can’t fix them. But we do need to give people the chance to be heard and seen.

CrisMarie: And that’s what I think business leaders, people don’t realize, even couples, don’t realize the power in just listening to somebody and their experience.

Susan: Well, I love that you brought up couples because that is like – I mean how many of you if you’re in a couple, there’s always the fixer and the one who’s like, “Okay, let’s just solve the problem.” And when we do our couples work, we spend a lot of time saying, “This isn’t about solving the issue right now, this is about talking about the issue, being curious about each other, really listening to each other, not just driving to a solution.”

CrisMarie: And even slowing down and asking, “Well, why is it so important to you?” Really understanding the other human being that you care about and the same is true on a team.

Susan: Yeah, the same is true on a team. The same is in a family. There’s just so many different ways. I remember with my family where there was a divide for 10 years, we didn’t talk to each other because of stuff that had been churned up. When we finally got together I thought it was because, you know, it was going to be about me getting to tell my story and be heard and recognize. You know what really was the most impactful thing was that I actually listened to my mother talk about the impact my version of what had happened had had on her.

And for the first time because I didn’t feel like I had to prove my story or fight for my story, I just felt for her. I had a felt sense because we were no longer fighting about right. We were just listening to each other. And when I felt myself have empathy for her I was so surprised. And wow this is what it actually means to have this kind of contact again and this connection. And it wasn’t about me telling my story one more time or whatever. I’d had people listen to me and I knew that I was okay. And I didn’t have to prove it, but that was so powerful.

And how often do we think the other person has to believe us or feel our grudge or have empathy for our side of the story, when really if we just feel our own empathy for them that may be the healing that needs to take place.

CrisMarie: Or even empathy for ourselves.

Susan: Yeah, or ourselves, yeah.

CrisMarie: I mean this brings into play, we can have stress and stressors, and we can have stress that’s been from long ago, things that have happened growing up, that can actually still live in our bodies. And one of the things that I became aware of the stress that was in my body from my childhood, based on having a chronic back injury, I had gut issues, I had skin issues, I had allergies, all these things going on.

And it wasn’t until I recognized that I was suffering from what’s called mind body syndrome which is something in me that said, “You know what? You have all those feelings but they’re too dangerous to feel so we’re going to distract you with all this chronic pain.”

And Dr. Sarno and Dr. Schubiner are two experts in this field. And it’s kind of ironic, it fits completely into the work that we do at Haven, which is dropping into the body and being willing to feel your feelings, even from long ago. You think I’m not going to make such a big deal of it. But we get stuck in that story and we never complete that arc and it lives in our bodies.

Susan: Now, I’m just going to say, they may be the scientists that have proven this. But I would say you are an expert in this area, not only have I watched her work with this for herself over time, but you have done it so well with even your clients in helping them get that. And I think it comes from understanding, maybe these guys gave the science to it. But to put that into practice how do you actually work with this? So, say a little bit more.

CrisMarie: Well, one of the things I realized – that’s very sweet of you, thank you Susan, I’m very touched. And I do come by it honestly since I have done my own work. I had to actually recognize that I was caught in a freeze response. So we have this vagus nerve that is the second largest nerve in our body. There is the upper branch which is up in our ears, nose, and throat, and heart. And then there is a lower branch that goes down to our guts.

And we know about fight, fighting being aggressive or fleeing when you’re flighting. But there is a freeze response which when you’ve experienced chronic trauma, which I grew up with chronic trauma, just growing up in my household, what happens is you start to just turn your response off. You go into like a possum, playing dead sort of stance. Now, I’m still operating but there’s this low grade freeze response, meaning I’m just not going to feel my feelings.

I’m going to focus on what’s outside and how to actually please the power people around me, because that’s what’s going to keep me safe and alive, which as a little person, was true. But I got stuck there. And so what I had to do was really when I recognized all these chronic issues I had to land in my body which literally meant feeling my feet, like wiggling my toes 20 times a day, keep coming back into my body.

And I had to kind of turn on my sensations both physically and emotionally becoming more aware of what I was feeling and processing through that. And not trying to get rid of them but actually turn towards the sensations in my body. And those people who are feeling phobic like oh my gosh, I don’t want to feel. One way is just to start landing in your body making sure you’re feeling your feet and your seat and then noticing the sensations that are happening in your body and just track those. I mean that really helps.

Susan: In some respect that’s a really powerful way, because even people who have big emotional expressions, one of the things that sometimes, anger, expression and things get a bad rap because somebody gets angry and it just charges up and gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. And the reason for that is because if I decide I’m going to deal with just how pissed off I am that somebody betrayed me. And then I start dealing with the story, they did this, they did that, they did this, they did that. And it gets bigger and bigger.

CrisMarie: Gets bigger, I can tell.

Susan: And then what can help is if I stop kind of revving on the story and just deal with okay, what am I feeling in my body? I’ve got this – for me it comes up like a nuclear explosion. I’ve got all this energy in my body. I need to move that energy. It doesn’t matter why. I need to work with that and okay right now it feels like rage. Okay next it feels like tears. But just keep letting that sensation or I name them, sometimes that gets in my way because I lose the sensation when I do it. But what will really lose it, if I start going into the story over, and over, and over again.

Because the story never has the ending the way that I want it to, so I’d be much better off playing it with the sensations and allowing that. And maybe I could write a new story, that’s true.

CrisMarie: Well, and I do think, you were helping me with the stress, it was from my dad who’s written a book and wants me to read it. And I just don’t want to read it. And this came up over thanksgiving weekend or just in a text last night actually. And as we took our walk today I started out feeling quite agitated and like oh my God, I’m going to have to read his book because he always gets his way because he’s such a bully blah, blah, blah. And you were like, “Okay, breathe into that.” And then you actually had me kind of – gestalt is a form where you complete a conversation.

And so you had me talk to my dad, become my dad, talk back. And at the end of that nothing has changed, my dad’s still going to ask me to read his book. But I felt so much more grounded and I had choice. I felt like I was whole again because I think that’s what stress can make you feel like, you’re not whole.

Susan: Yeah. And I think one, dealing with – even I thought it was really powerful when you were like, “I don’t want to read the book.” That is self-defining, it’s not even saying, “Oh well”, you know, because when you’re really mad you’re kind of like, “I will not read that book.” And it’s like it’s all a different thing because you’re still in battle with him. But if you can come back to this is what it’s about for me right now, I’m not doing that. And this is, you know, here’s how I am showing up.

CrisMarie: Because I am still processing my world from way back when [crosstalk].

Susan: And we all do that, we have our moments where something happens, and it can happen at work, it can happen when people don’t have their mask on. I’m still amazed at how upset I can get about the mask wearing. And I realize it gets triggered because I – or six feet apart, that’s probably even a bigger one for me. And part of it was I kept a lot of physical space in my world when I was – that’s how I kept myself safe. So it really bothers, now I can feel myself retreating back to what used to be old patterns of mine to keep people at a distance.

And it’s like wow, this was something I did a long time ago for safety, now it’s about safety too, it’s a little different. And I have to remember that. Don’t do all the evil eye.

CrisMarie: So we’re talking about stress that’s happened a long time ago that the stressor is gone and you’re still – for me, I’m still processing the stress. That’s what I was doing with the mind body piece. And then there’s stressors that aren’t going to go away, like Covid. And there’s things to do to help you process through that on a daily basis. It’s like siphon off the stress so that you get back at feeling of feeling safe, I’m at home. I have choice.

Susan: I think about how much in the last few months we’ve been working with so many teams, we worked with Microsoft with this Unpack Your Stress. And now we’ve done it with a number of different teams. And a lot of these companies their level of stress is not even, yes, some of it’s because of the remote nature of things. But a lot of these companies were stressful before.

CrisMarie: They are constantly stressed.

Susan: Yeah, and they’re going to be stressed again. And so really then the idea being of how are you going to, unless you quit your job and find another one, how are you going to be able to walk into that stressful situation and not just have it create burnout and disease in you?

CrisMarie: And, well, there’s two things, there is one, developing some skills at the team level where you have regular ways that you debrief the team, how it’s going. That’s often why we come in to help have that conversation, because especially with this remote working environment, people are less willing. They go right to the work.

Susan: Yeah. And there are a lot of things that could happen in an in place work environment that would naturally de-stress things that don’t happen now. And so we’ve really been trying to help teams come up with ways on meetings, even the simple idea of checking in, which we talked about this past week of check in with one thing you’re grateful for. A very different way to check in and not very many businesspeople do that on a regular basis but it changes the way your brain operates.