Abridged excerpt of the Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2. If you like them, please share this page, and buy a copy.
Copyright © 2009 Zohar Adner. All rights reserved.
“The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours—it is an amazing journey—and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.”
– Bob Moawad
Feeling exhausted just thinking about the next conversation with your relatives?
Shaking your head at the thought of another day in a frustrating job?
Dreading having to take care of everything “on your plate”?
We live in a fast-paced world. Our modern “do more” society, with its torrent of information, communication and instability has conspired against your plans for success and serenity. No wonder you feel stressed!
By now, you’ve tried some of the usual techniques to deal with stress—you’ve organized your schedule, treated yourself to massages, taken a vacation or indulged in a treat after a hard day.
These techniques work—to some degree. You feel better, get through your day, and reach another deadline. But then a new deadline looms, a new crisis arrives, and you’re once again on a roller coaster of good days and bad—an up and down, spinning, unending, stomach-churning ride.
Stress management and stress reduction techniques are limited because they don’t address the core issue of why you’re stressed in the first place. Their approach is to address your symptoms; this provides only short-term stress relief. As a result, your stress is going to return again and again, like a boomerang.
The path to a permanent release of stress isn’t cramming more into your day—taking on more responsibilities and obligations while setting aside a few moments of solace. Stress release takes aim at the root of your stress—hearing and acting on the message it’s trying to communicate, not the method of that communication.
That message is one of care and protection. Unfortunately stress can’t say any of this out loud. Instead it gets your attention by making you irritable, increasing heart rate, tensing muscles and contributing to 90% of visits to primary care physicians. It’s really hard to get our attention sometimes—even with the best of intentions.
The bad news is the louder, more forceful messages have taken a big toll on you and everyone around you.
The good news is you’re holding the solution in your hands.
The Gift of Stress has tools to finally act on the messages. You’ll then benefit from powerful techniques to release the stress once and for all, and a clear course of action so you’ll enjoy the increased health, happiness, meaning and satisfaction that stress has kept you from. That’s something that time management, massages, vacations and treats can’t do. They’re just coping methods to help you stay alive. The Gift of Stress is designed to help you live.
People often ask me if I ever stress out. Like everyone else, I frequently experience stress. A major difference, though, is that I (and those who use this system) have learned to become acutely aware of stress, and to take immediate actions to release it. As a result, my stresses are generally blips that pass quickly instead of festering into larger issues that can lead to depression, grief, memory loss and physical illness.
“Be the change you wish to see.”
During a speech in New York City, the Dalai Lama said that when he gets bothered, he’s really good at identifying what’s behind it and bringing himself back to a calm state. As you read this book take on a stress release mindset—where you are open to, and actively searching for, new perspectives and possibilities for letting go of your physical and emotional stress. I encourage you to adopt that mindset as you read this book and its potential as a new approach to dealing with your stress.
Where to start reading
This book is written in a way that makes it easy to read a portion, think about and absorb it, and then apply what’s presented to your life. It’s also divided into sections based on actions you’d want to start with. Wherever you begin, take your time with it. Don’t count on remembering your insights—your mind is full enough as it is. Jot answers to the questions as well as your spontaneous thoughts in the margins. Going through your stress this way is a great opportunity—a gift—make the most of it!
Start on page 15 if you want the secrets to getting the most out of your stress:
Part 1: Stress is a Gift introduces concepts and techniques to identify and control stress’ urgent messages.
Start on page 59 if you want the ins and outs of stress release:
Part 2: The Seven Rs of Stress Release Workbook walks you through the easy and proven method to simplify, benefit from and eliminate ANY stress.
Start on page 149 if you want to get to the core of your stress and start releasing it:
Appendix B: The Seven Rs Worksheet is your opportunity to apply the method to release your stress about any situation.
Start on page 161 if you want to see how others have applied the Seven Rs:
Appendix C: Case Studies gives completed examples of the Seven Rs worksheet for various situations.
It’s time. Turn the page and unwrap your gift!
PART ONE - STRESS IS A GIFT
The Urgent Message
That’s Trying to
Save Your Life
Look, I’m just trying to help. Oh, you’ve taken care of it?
Okay. I’ll be quiet. You sure you got it?
Because I’m right here in case you forget.”
Remember when you really wanted your mother’s attention but couldn’t get it?
Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mooooooom. Mooooooom. Mooooooom. Mooooooom. Mooooooom. Mooooooom. MOOOOOOOM! MOOOOOOOM! MOOOOOOOM!
Pouting, pacing, jumping up and down, yanking on her arm… you tried everything! You were almost proud of the new ways you came up with to get her attention.
Guess what? Your stress gets louder the same way you did as a child and for the same reason—it believes that something important to you is being threatened. You can almost hear the stress saying…
Lisa, you’re running late for your weekly meeting! You’ll get fired! Will you finally do something if I make your heart race?
Gary, you have a quiz tomorrow! You’ll end up penniless and friendless! Will you finally hear me if I keep you
awake at night and give you shaking fits during the day?
Phil, your business is making less money! You’ll end up on the street! Will you do something if I give you acid
reflux again? (It worked last time.)
Joan, your kids are drifting away! You’re going to miss out on their lives! Will you see how bad things are and
make time to connect with them if you’re sick with the flu for a week?
Until you act on its message, stress will do whatever it takes to save you from a threat. Unfortunately, stress can’t speak, so it uses other methods to get your attention such as aches, pains, illnesses, tensions, and sleep problems. This is something to be concerned about because whenever stress communicates, it takes a physical and mental toll on you (see How Stress Affects the Body on page 20 in full book).
So the question now is: What can you do about it?
What does the word “stress” mean to you? When I ask people for their definition of stress, most respond with the symptoms they feel (“A tightening of my jaw, hands, and chest”), an intangible description (“I just get overwhelmed”) or a situation that stresses them out (“My boss gets on my nerves”).
While these responses and definitions are all valid, the problem is that they don’t provide a specific framework to regain control and deal with the tremendous variety of situations that trigger stress. They leave stress as a dark, uncomfortable, gooey blob.
The dictionary definitions aren’t any more useful or reassuring:
Webster’s definition of stress:
Stress – noun 1: c: a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.
© Merriam-Webster, Inc.
What we really want is a definition that brings clarity, gives comfort and provides structure to what we’re going through so we can do something with and about it.
My definition of stress
When I started coaching, I wanted to help people have more fun in their lives. I quickly noticed, however, that the clients that came to me had something else in common—they were stressed and no matter what they did their stress would reappear sooner or later. Their stress showed up in a lot of ways—muscle tension, headaches, anxiety and so on—and trapped the energy and initiative they could use to lead healthy, happy, meaningful and satisfying lives.
My clients were stressed because of situations like not having enough money, frequent arguments with their teenage children, or dissatisfaction with their careers. They had tried to eliminate their stress through budgeting techniques, reading books on communication, organizing their schedules, treating themselves to massages and indulged in a comforting treat after a hard day—none of which proved effective in the long-term.
As I worked with them, I began to notice a pattern: their problem was with their approach—it wasn’t targeted at the root of the problem, nor focusing on what they could control. You don’t have control over traffic jams, your boss or your teenager. You do have control over what’s going on inside—your ideals for, and responses to, the situations that trigger your stress (more on this in We Crave Control on page 27).
Here is the definition of stress I use to take control of any stress:
Stress is a reaction that commonly occurs when your current situation doesn’t match your ideal version of that situation.
This definition is powerful. It changes the game. It gives you control.
The definition can be broken up into three components—each of which offers you a specific approach to handling your stress.
1. Stress can only occur when your current situation doesn’t match your ideal version of that situation.
2. Stress is a reaction.
3. Stress is common.
Let’s look at each of the components in more detail:
1. Stress occurs when your current situation doesn’t match your ideal version of that situation
It may not happen frequently, but when everything is going the way you’d like, do you ever get stressed? Never.
We get stressed when the current situation we’re experiencing doesn’t match the ideal we hold in our heads of how that situation should be taking place. It’s only when your current situation doesn’t match your ideal situation that the potential for stress exists.
The funny thing is that most of us don’t realize that we’ve created an ideal version of a situation, so we don’t look for the relationship between our current situation and our ideal concept of it. We often just feel stress and we’re not clear about why we’re feeling that way.
Your current situation is what you’re going through and facing in the present moment. If you’re driving to work, the present moment might consist of you in a seat, the music on the radio, the person driving in the lane next to you, the client presentation you’re goingthrough in your head and so on.
Your ideals are how you’d prefer the current situation to be. We constantly create idealized versions of everything that happens in our lives—your ideal drive to work might consist of you in the driver’s seat of a convertible with the sun shining, wind in your hair, a favorite song on the radio, clear lanes, green lights all the way, and a smile on your face because the client has called ahead and wants to sign a five-year contract without seeing your presentation.
This same dynamic occurs not just in situations but also in relationships. Your brother says something hurtful and inappropriate. Your young child doesn’t want to get into the car when you want her to. Your boss isn’t interested in talking about your well-deserved raise this week.
Each situation or interaction holds the potential for stress. Why? Because of the expectation you’re carrying around in your head of how each situation or interaction should unfold. If what actually takes place falls short of that expectation, you can feel stressed.
The amazing part is that once you recognize and understand the ideals you’re creating, you then have a choice. You can work toward achieving your ideals or you can let them go and deal with things as they are. Either way, you let go of stress. If you work toward achieving your ideal, you close the gap between your current situation and your ideal situation. If you let go of the ideal, even if only temporarily, then you can return calmly to the moment. You’re no longer distracted or fixated with the ideal—instead you accept your situation, whatever it might be.
Let me give you an example from my own life…
Don’t cry over spilled paint
Years ago my cousin Liz was fixing up her apartment. The day after a new hardwood floor had been installed I went over to paint the walls and ceiling. At one point she left to run a few errands and get more supplies. Within two minutes my foot caught on the tarp protecting the floor, I tripped, and spilled a full gallon of white paint on my cousin’s not even two-day old floor—the one that Liz had saved for two years to purchase and just moments before been smiling at like a mother to a baby. I felt like an idiot and immediately began cursing at myself for being so stupid. This was not my ideal—an easy afternoon helping out one of my favorite people.
The mess wouldn’t have been so bad had it been a traditional hardwood floor with one smooth surface, but this was a pre-laminated kind with grooves between each slat that the paint was seeping into. I wanted to get out of the apartment, fast, and find a hole to crawl into. My mind started racing with possible consequences— Liz could scream at me, start crying, force me to pay for a new floor, or even just ask me to leave and never speak to me again (my mind can get pretty creative with negative consequences). None of the scenarios
seemed appealing, nor were any of them happening at the moment.
Even though the day wasn’t going as planned, I realized that I would be better off if I did my best to rectify the situation, and face Liz sooner rather than later. I decided that rather than get upset or react with stress from the situation, my ideal, even now, was to feel relaxed and comfortable. I released my ideal of a quick favor, took a few slow breaths, turned on the radio, and started singing along to the music as I started cleaning up the mess.
After the first half hour of sopping up paint I realized the mess had been contained and really calmed down. An hour into it I started going through each slat with any narrow tool I could find, confident that I was doing a quality job on a mess that could have happened to anyone. By the end of two hours, when Liz returned, I felt proud of the effort I’d put in to clean up the mess.
I told Liz about the spill as she looked over the floor. Her reaction was, “I appreciate you telling me what happened. I thought it looked a little different, but you did a very good job of cleaning it up. It was an accident and you put a lot of hard work into cleaning up. Plus, I was planning to put a chair in that spot anyway so it’s not a big deal.”
That was it. A stressful situation easily acted on by recognizing and adjusting ideals to fit a changing situation. We then finished painting the apartment without any more accidents and the place looked great.
We crave control
When our current situation doesn’t match our ideal, we often start craving control. We want the stability, certainty and security that our experience will match our ideals. The problem is that most things in life are out of our control—everything from the weather, to the price of gas, to others’ attitudes.
Although we may not always be aware of our ideals, we always have control over them. We always have the power to create our ideals, change them as we see fit and release them when they no longer benefit us. And the best part is that once you’re aware of this control, no one can ever take it away from you (except you—by forgetting that you have it). Even if it’s the third time in a week that traffic is terrible and you’re running late for work, you can still control your ideal of being on time and your reaction for how you feel in the meantime.
One of the main goals of this book is to raise your awareness of this crucial fact, to remind you of the control you already have and to show you ways to use it.
There’s persistence, and then there’s stubbornness. This story’s being going around the internet for years— the U.S. Navy denies it, but I’ll let you make up your own mind:
Transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. This radio conversation was released by the Chief of Naval Operations on October 10, 1995.
Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”
Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”
Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”
Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”
Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”
Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”
Flexibility is important. When are you trying to move a lighthouse? When the effort required exceeds the potential results.
In theory while you could dig up the ground around the lighthouse and move it, it’s not worth it.
“The difference between persistence and obstinance is that
one often comes from a strong will, the other from a strong won’t.”
– Henry Ward Beecher
2. Stress is a reaction
Stress happens inside of you.
You don’t see it. You don’t smell it. You don’t taste it. You don’t touch it. You don’t hear it.
You feel it. And that’s because stress is a reaction. It’s a reaction that may surface in a variety of ways—through muscle tension, an accelerated heart rate, shouting, and so forth—but it starts inside you.
What do we know about reactions?
☞We can control our reactions.
☞We want to react in the best way possible.
☞ Stressing out is never the best reaction.
You have the power to change. The first step is to take ownership of your reactions.
We often think or say, “He/she pushed my buttons.” Each time we talk or think this way, we relinquish a little more control over our reactions (and ourselves) by assigning blame and transferring power to someone else. Rather than taking responsibility and controlling our reactions, we are giving the responsibility away to someone who has their own view on how the situation should be. By not reclaiming the control, you allow stress into your life.
The good news is that with a little attention, you can reprogram yourself to react differently. Not only that, you can choose whatever reaction you’d like!
Since our lives tend to be made up of routines, we face similar challenges again and again, yet people allow themselves to be surprised that the situation or person hasn’t changed. As a result, over 90% of our stressful situations are predictable ones (i.e. regular deadlines, traffic, conversations with familiar people), giving us lots of opportunities to practice reacting to them in a new way. It also means that reprogramming just a few of your reactions will have a large impact on your life.
Ignoring this is like slamming a shin into a coffee table over and over rather than moving the table or walking a different path. You know it’s there and it’s not going to move on its own.
Once you identify the situations that trigger your buttons, you can choose your ideal response—joy, resentment, indifference, etc (see The Better Response on page 33 of the actual book for more info). It takes a lot of practice but gets easier with patience and attention. (Please note that you can’t choose how you’d like other people to behave. You only have control over your own reactions.)
A New York City truck driver once complained to me that every day he would get furious at taxis that cut him off. He decided to change his view about the situation to one where it became a familiar surprise.
The typical cycle of dealing with difficult people
When dealing with “bothersome” people or situations, this is the three step sequence typically taken:
1. Avoid or cut them out from your life—This throws out the good times with the bad, is difficult to pull off, and takes a lot of maintenance.
When that isn’t desired or doesn’t work...
2. Try to change their behavior—Another person’s behavior is out of your control. You can (and should) voice your feelings in a manner that will bring about understanding but there’s no guarantee that they will change and, if so, for how long.
When that doesn’t work...
3. Hold a grudge, complain, get angry, bitter and spiteful—We tend to dwell in this step long after the incidentand end up harming ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually.
Most people then cycle between #2 and #3 until figuring out how to make #1 plausible. But there is a fourth option:
4. No longer see their behavior as “bothersome”—The world is filled with people making requests of others to change their behavior “just a bit.” Those tiny adjustments add up. Think of all the requests being made upon you to change. Wouldn’t you prefer it if people could accept you as you were? They have the same preference. Honor it.
“When we are no longer able to change situation—
we are challenged to change ourselves.”
– Viktor E. Frankl
Yes, it is possible to accept the “bothersome” person or situation. Your feelings about them are completely in your hands. Plus, this response can be applied to similar people and situations with little or no extra effort!
If you responded in a better way in the past, or if you can envision another way of responding, then you know that being stressed is your choice. And, if it’s your choice, that makes it optional. You can choose not to stress out!
The better response
No matter the situation, the best response is never to “stress out”—especially when you take into consideration the harm it does to you and others (see How Stress Affects the Body on page 20 of the actual book). There are unlimited ways to respond to a situation, and they generally fall into one of three categories: emotional, verbal and physical. One of the things that freezes people is their need to come up with the best response. It doesn’t have to be that challenging though; as you keep coming up with better responses your stress will diminish and your life will improve.
To find a better response ask yourself:
☞ How would I prefer to respond?
☞What would I do after the stress dissipates?
☞ How would someone I respect respond in this situation?
Then put it into action by asking yourself:
☞What would it take to respond that way?
☞What’s preventing me from responding in a better way? What can I do about that?
☞What would be gained by responding in a better way?
The above questions can be used in any combination.
Here are some examples:
When my mother nags me about my cooking we get into an argument.
Someone I respect
Uncle Harry tells her she’s right and does what he wants anyway.
If I did that I would feel more confident in my cooking, and be open to hearing mom’s occasional good ideas.
Each time my boss approaches me I think she’s going to fire me.
After stress dissipates
After I see she’s not going to fire me, I’m open to hearing what she has to say which is usually upbeat and productive.
What prevents me
I don’t do it because of the one time she threatened to do so—my first week on the job, three years ago. Instead, I can focus on the many times she’s praised me.
When I get upset I eat.
When I get upset I’d prefer to take five deep breaths.
I would remember to do that if I put a photo of a whale blowing out water on my fridge.
3. Stress is Common
So why do we frequently choose to react with stress? A major reason is because it’s so common—we’ve been exposed to it our whole lives and we continue to see it. As a result, it’s become socially acceptable—and often expected—that we stress out at certain times.
We learn about stress from the people around us—our family and our society—even though they may not always be the best role models. As a result, through decades of example and repetition, our emotional buttons have been programmed to react with stress.
For example, I live in Manhattan. People here are often in a rush, so much so that they frequently get stressed (and loudly vocalize their feelings) if their paths are disrupted by something as innocent as a five minute delay on the subway. While not pleasing, their actions are accepted by others as a typical part of life. Whereas, in a town with a slower pace, getting visibly and dramatically stressed over a five minute delay would stand out as unusual and people would stop their activities to look into (or move far away from) the situation because it must be very, very serious for someone to react in that way.
Stress might be common but it doesn’t mean we have to accept it as part of our own life. We can choose environments where it’s rare and if such an environment doesn’t exist we can create one.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the main reasons people stay in stressful environments—motivation.
New case studies, stress release techniques and discussions keep emerging. You’re invited to stay up-to-date and join the mailing list at GiftOfStress.com/book.
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