• Thrive Inc.

Unpack Your Stress: There's More to the Story

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

We want you to think about the stressors you’ve faced in 2020. It might be that you’ve lost a loved one, your business is at risk of having to shut down, or it could be that you’re simply tired of being on video calls from morning until night. Now think about a special day in your life that’s brought you joy. How do you feel when you think about each circumstance?

A few weeks back, we discussed how to deal with stress when the stressor won’t go away, but we think there’s more to the conversation. So often, when stress impacts us, it’s not the stress that’s affecting us but the way we’re thinking about it. This week, we want you to learn to separate the stress from the stressor, unpack your emotions, and learn to deal with stress in a way that serves you.

Join us this week as we’re showing you the effects of viewing stress negatively, and how you can change your mindset to use stress in a healthy way. The way you view stress in your life is hugely important, and we’re showing you how to tune into your thinking, pay attention to your feelings and learn to allow stress and other sensations to move through your body, enabling you to thrive in your 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:

  • Some interesting research linked to stress.

  • How to view stress in a helpful way.

  • Why you should learn to feel your feelings.

  • Some ways to unpack your stress and manage it better.

  • The importance of giving yourself permission to be exactly how you are.

  • How your internal dialogue controls your internal stress.


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: Hi there. A couple of weeks ago we did a podcast on dealing with stress when stress won’t go away. And we think there’s more to the conversation. We’ve been doing work with clients with our Unpack Your Stress program both with organizations and teams. And we’ve also been coaching a lot of individuals who are just struggling with the stress of the time.

Susan: And let’s face it, we struggle with the stress of the time as well.

CrisMarie: We do. And we’re getting ready to do a whole organizational talk for the entire organization for a client of ours. And we’ve been getting some research and some more information. And today we wanted to have a conversation about it for you.

Susan: Yes, we want you to think about situations, reflect back on 2020. And kind of write down some of the stressors you have been dealing with, the stress of your business not doing well and the concern that you may have to shut down, the stress of not having a job.

CrisMarie: Or the stress that your business is going gangbusters and so you’re on meetings, video meetings from morning till night and you don’t have time to take care of yourself.

Susan: Or maybe you’ve lost a family member because of Covid or lost a family member not because of Covid. But you’re still dealing with that because you can’t have a memorial service or a service. These are some of the big stressors, or you are someone who’s been directly out there, protesting, working and for social justice. These are all just some of the stressors, big stressors that people are talking about.

Now, as you jot down what your stressors are, we want you just to think about when you’re looking at that list. So are you thinking stress is good for you or bad for you?

CrisMarie: I’m going to guess you’re thinking stress is bad for me and I should get rid of my stress. How can I get rid of my stress? That’s my thoughts.

Susan: Now, okay so let that go. Just move those stressors off to the side. And I want you to do a little different experience with me here. I want you to think about maybe when you got married, that special day. Or maybe it was when you had your first baby, your first child or you got a puppy. And for me if I think about the last time I got on a Peloton ride with Robyn and she was yelling at me, screaming at me to keep up and do the work, too much turkey. And I’m sitting there thinking this is great.

Now, think about those things that I just asked you to think about and in that scenario ask yourself the question and this is the stress good or the stress bad?

CrisMarie: Because we think so often stress how it impacts you and we’re going to talk about some studies about this is really how you think about it. And getting married, planning a wedding is never a stress free event but you have such a joy, hopefully, because you’re getting married or having a baby that you’re willing to go through it and it winds up being hopefully positive.

Susan: Or taking a Peloton ride, she didn’t add that one but it could be that one.

CrisMarie: There’s kind of a funny scenario, this comes up to me even when I’m shopping or I get a new appliance. I think great. It’s going to solve my problems. And then I have to actually figure out how to use the thing and that is a very stressful experience for me.

Susan: It is, or you’re so excited about what it’s going to be like, and then we just had a whole water system replacement. It was like this is going to be the most magnificent thing. The water really isn’t any different from our perspective day-to-day. There’s a little bit of a letdown in that.

CrisMarie: We spent a lot of money because we’re on a well, we need to, but really, we can’t tell the difference.

Susan: Yeah. We don’t get that joy of seeing that the water is totally different.

CrisMarie: So we really want to kind of echo what we were saying a couple of weeks ago is we really want you to separate the stress from the stressor. And the stress is inside of you. The stressor are those things that happen that you interpret and create stress inside of yourself.

Susan: Now, what we want to dive into now is some research.

CrisMarie: Before we do that I just want also, think about how you respond when you’re really stressed out. How do you know that you’re stressed? Is it that you have trouble sleeping? Is it that you eat more, or talk frantically, or move and get a lot of things done? Or is it your heart rate going or do you just feel anxious and jittery? What are your stress symptoms? We want you to be thinking about that as we’re going through this talk.

Susan: And you may look back at those things that we were just talking about, those stressors in 2020, what did you notice came up for you? I know some of the people I’ve talked to have some very kind of classic gut digestive issues, the things you were just mentioning. And then also look at those really positive things and think about what kind of symptoms and signs come up for you there that they’re stress. Because you might notice that there’s some similarities.

When I’m on my Peloton my heart is pumping fast just like it is when I’m feeling a little on the, you know, anxious about Covid. But I’m actually having a very different perspective to those two, when somebody isn’t wearing their mask I’m not quite as friendly as I am with Robyn. I might yell at Robyn on the Peloton, but I don’t even yell at the person who doesn’t have the mask but I sure want to. And there’s very different levels of how that stress shows up.

CrisMarie: So as we were doing our research we’ve known this TED Talk, Kelly McGonigal did a How to Make Stress your Friend. And we certainly encourage you to watch the whole TED Talk. We’re not going to talk about everything but she had some really powerful studies that she referenced that we thought were really helpful. And one was the – there is a study that tracked 30,000 adults in the US for over eight years and they asked them two questions at the start of the study. How much stress has been in your life this year? And they must have done this on a regular basis.

And then eight years later they looked at death records – no, two questions. How much stress has been in your life this year? And the second question is and do you believe stress is harmful to your health?

Susan: Notice those questions are very similar to the ones we asked you just a little while ago.

CrisMarie: How much stress are you under and do you think it’s harmful to your health? And then they looked at death records at the end. And what they found is that people who had a lot of stress had a 43% chance higher risk of dying, but only if they believed that stress was harmful to their health. Those that had that same high level of stress but did not believe stress was harmful to their health had zero increased risk of dying.

Susan: So now here is another thing to think about that with that. It’s not like all of a sudden you can just, no, stress doesn’t bother me, because that’s going to create a hell of a lot of stress in your system as well.

CrisMarie: That’s true.

Susan: You might suddenly be like how can I be that person? So don’t go there, we have some more good news for you.

CrisMarie: Yes. So there was another study, a Harvard study that Kelly referenced. And the idea, they studied the stress response. So we talked about when you’re responding to stress there’s some natural things as a human being that happen. Your heart rate goes up, you breathe faster. You may even perspire. And we usually think oh my gosh, I’m anxious, this is bad, this is really, really bad. And this Harvard study, what they discovered is when people interpreted those responses from their body as hey, this is my body preparing for me to meet this challenge, whatever challenge it is.

Susan: Thus the Peloton, I tell you, that’s exactly, you know, that’s what they’re always doing, meet this challenge. Or I think about skiing, when I get up on top of a hill that I have probably no business being on or maybe now I’ve gotten a little better. And I look down at it and I’m like, you know, it can take my breath away sometimes. Or I can go this is, [inaudible], this is cool; I’m going to get to try this hill, very different. And I ski very different depending on which one I think.

CrisMarie: That’s true, yeah. But when you do, the Harvard study found when people viewed their body as hey, this is my body preparing me for this challenge, they had less anxiety, less stress, were more confident and actually it impacted their physical stress response So what happens when you’re stressed out and your heart’s pumping and you’re thinking stress is bad, it’s like your arteries actually get tighter and tighter.

The difference is when you view stress as hey, this is my body helping me, those arteries actually stay open and it’s like your body responding to moments of courage. It has a whole different felt sense, it’s not bad for you and that’s just a mind frame, a reframe of hey, this is my body helping me versus oh my gosh, this is a stress response and I’m in trouble or I’m not going to be able, or this is bad.

Susan: So we find these studies really helpful in us beginning to look at this. And we’ll share one more just because it…

CrisMarie: She had a lot of great research in her talk.

Susan: She did.

CrisMarie: Go ahead. Do you want to share this one?

Susan: Yeah, I’ll take a study. I’m a reluctant scientist, researcher. I like to go back and look at, but I really like the experiential stuff much better. But this study did fascinate me. This was another one where there were 1,000 adults who they studied and who each reported life stressors. And they’re key life stressors that when you acknowledge them, like a death in the family or even a wedding, that kind of increase your risk of dying by 30% except in one situation.

For the people that also said that they were engaged in caring, and meaning, and purpose they did not have that 30% risk factor at all. So it wasn’t, this time it wasn’t their perspective on stress that switched it. It was that they were actually doing things that created connection, and caring, and community, and outreach.

CrisMarie: And that, what it does is it creates oxytocin which is actually a stress hormone. You’ve heard it called the cuddle hormone, but what it does is it – your body secretes it when you are under stress so that it drives you to make connections. And so this isn’t obligatory taking care of people, this is actually hey, I’m going to make my neighbors – I’m going to go help them because they’re stuck in their driveway in the snow.

And it’s that immediate like hey, I’m doing something good. I’m going to make them cookies because it’s fun, not because oh gosh, I’ve got to give out cookies to everybody in the neighborhood.

Susan: So I can see CrisMarie took over my study talk. I think I probably wasn’t doing as good a job of delivering the study information. But it’s okay, she got to that point that I think is important. You can’t just pretend to be a caring individual. These are these natural spontaneous things that people enjoy doing. It was kind of like when we talked, you know, when Covid happened and our business, everything we had planned went away. It wasn’t like we were like now we want to be in service. No. We were actually like we really want to be in service.

CrisMarie: We’ve got nothing to do.

Susan: And we really want to be in service and we want to use these ideas. And there was a whole different energy in that way of reaching out. And it made all the difference in the world. It didn’t make us more money at that time but it sure made all the difference in how we went about it.

CrisMarie: Yeah. We felt more connected. We started doing daily Facebook Lives. We had the new morning show and we started doing LinkedIn videos. And it was fun and we were learning and we were giving tips and tools. And so yeah, it was just felt like we can be of service. And people need a sense of meaning and purpose I think to feel like hey, I’m making a difference.

Susan: We’re going to move on here in a minute, because though we love this research we have some things we want to apply to it. But one of the things that Kelly McGonigal said was, “Stress gives us access to our hearts.” The compassionate heart finds joy and meaning in connecting to others. The pounding physical heart works hard to give you strength, energy and basically, courage. I think those are two really great points that we miss sometimes.

Now, go back with this perspective and look at what you faced in 2020. And see, you know, can you see where maybe that has? Have you actually used that to inspire your heart, to increase your heart?

CrisMarie: Yeah. And know that your body is helping you when you are stressed out. It’s trying to help you meet that challenge. And so we also want to give you a frame of how we all create stress in our lives, and how you can shift that stress to more helpful ways to work with it.

Susan: Yes, because when I was talking earlier about sometimes when you hear these studies you could just go to oh my god, I’m not doing it right. I should be someone who loves, who embraces stress, and freak yourself out. And I think that often happens. It’s like I should. We want to give you some ways because we actually believe, yeah, it’s great if you actually do shift your perspective. And we also believe you won’t always. So there will be times where that’s going to happen, and then times where it won’t and actually recognizing that choice point is critical.

So we want to frame it up with a – we’re going to talk about a little model we use in that.

CrisMarie: And this idea, it comes from The Haven and the idea of we all have our authentic self, our central energy, our soul, whatever we come in, that animates our physical being. And quite quickly because we’re little babies, we can’t take care of ourselves. We are taken care of by our caregivers. And we learn pretty quickly, hey, if I smile I get fed or I get picked up. So we start to look outside for what do I need to do to please this person so that I’m taken care of?

That sets us up to try to reach this ideal, because this continues on. How do I get straight A’s? How do I make a lot of money, get the promotion? It’s a version of the same thing. We’re trying to do something to please somebody outside of us so that we’ll feel safe.