Exactly one week away from the launch of a major online project and the Annual Benefit gala (where the project is being showcased), an email from the executive director came into my mailbox. The subject was “Stress no more…please open” I read the email and took a breath.

I am what I call an adrenaline junkie. A chronic dot-commer addicted to the highs of being in crisis mode. Somewhere along the way, I burnt out. I still get stressed but its at a controlled pace and every once in a while I catch myself falling back into the old patterns of behaviour. People say that I am calm in crisis, that’s what they think…still waters run deep my friends.


Taken from Alexander Kjerulf’s Chief Happiness Officer – Top 5 myths about workplace stress

At least i have gotten good at recognizing the danger signals. I know i am reaching my stress limit when….

1) I have trouble sleeping. My mind works overtime going over all the problems, running in circles.

2) Due to lack of sleep, my eye twitches (this is stress phase 2)

3) When i do sleep, I dream that I am back in college one day before my thesis is due…and yes you guessed it, nothing is done. Even in my dreams, I am thinking…”How did I let myself get into this mess”)

4) I grind my teeth (In my sleep)

5) If its really bad….my bowels misbehave (but we don’t need to go into further details)

When I recognize that I am stressed, here’s what I do.

1) Usually it means that I am overworked. I have probably been staring at the screen for many long hours. I think to myself…Am I being productive or am I just working for the sake of working. When I am tired I get cranky and I make mistakes. This is neither good for myself or my team. I make myself take a break and start fresh. Not being productive is anti everything I believe in.

2) I think to myself, what is the worst that can happen. If you really think about it, it usually isn’t THAT bad. I love playing worst case scenarios and if I am prepared for that, then what’s the big deal?

3) I remind myself that what is important to me is my family, my health and my beliefs. I will not let work jeopardize any of these things.

4) I remind myself that I can’t solve everyone’s problems. I have my limits. I do my work to the best of my ability. I will not take on other people’s burdens. That is a major one that I have problems with. I think to myself “I can do this…they will just make mistakes” or “I can do this in 10 minutes. It will take them 4 hours to do this right” Well, those 10 minutes ultimately add up as I sit there by myself fuming and growing increasingly resentful.

This is an excerpt from that stress email. I believe it is part of the Rockwood Leadership Program I hope you find it as helpful as I did.

Please read the following carefully

Let us consider some provocative propositions:

provocative proposition #1:
Stress is not directly proportional to how much we have to do.

There are some days where we’re in “the zone.”
We have lots to do.
But we’re on our game, things flow, we feel good, and at the end of
the day, we’re amazed at how much we accomplished.

Other days…
We’re stressed.
We may not even have as much to do as we did in the
previous example.
But we’re off center, our mind is racing, and we feel the weight of the
to-do list hanging over us.

provocative proposition #2
No one and no thing can make us feel stressed-
events do happen-stress is in how we respond to events

An event happens.
The same event that evokes stress in you-an upcoming speech or an organizational challenge-may be experienced as an exciting challenge by someone else.

Sure, all kinds of things happen that may appear undesirable… overwhelming… intense… frightening…

But, in the end, we always have choice about the meaning we ascribe to these events.
And choice about how we respond.

provocative proposition #3
Stress is resistance to what is happening in the moment
or –thinking about the future from a place of fear

Right NOW…
Right here…
There is no stress.
We’re doing whatever we’re doing.
We’re working on a proposal.
Making a telephone call.
Reading this e-mail.

We may even be having an intense experience.
We may be doing budget projections and finding a shortfall.
We may be hearing a loved one give us critical feedback.
We may be experiencing feelings of fatigue, anger, pain or fear.

None of this is stress.
Stress is what goes on in our mind about these experiences.
I don’t want there to be a budget shortfall.
I don’t want this person to be angry at me.
I don’t want to be feeling tired, angry, afraid…

We resist.
We contract.
Our breath constricts.
Our muscles tighten.
Our mind starts judging, finding fault, resisting what is.
Resisting “what is” is exhausting.
Fighting with reality is a losing battle.
Much of what we call stress is this resistance to what is so.

Most of the rest of stress is our mind exhausting itself experiencing
things that haven’t yet happened.
And may never come to pass.

I wake up with a sensation of heaviness in my eyes.
That’s what is.
But my thoughts start racing:
“I’m tired. I didn’t get enough sleep. I have so much to do today. I’m going to be so tired. There’s no time for a nap. How will I stay alert in the meeting this afternoon. I should have gone to sleep earlier last night. I’m so tired. I’m not getting enough sleep these days. This is the third day in a row I woke up feeling tired. I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. My diet? Chronic fatigue syndrome? I’m getting old.”

Our minds run around like hamsters on a treadmill.
Very exhausting.
Very stressful.

“I have experienced many terrible things in this lifetime…
most of which never happened.” Mark Twain

I had cancer 18 years ago.
During the years following my real diagnosis, I “received” at least 100 diagnoses of fatal metastases–in my mind.

I’ve had so many seminars not fill, end with people disappointed in my teaching, not get invited back again to teach…
At least, I experienced these “tragedies” in my mind
(though not in reality)

Right now, all that’s happening…is what’s happening.
Stress is resistance to what is happening in the moment
or –thinking about the future from a place of fear

provocative proposition #4
We are not at the mercy of our state of being

We always have choice.
We always have the choice to be with what is.
Not resisting our experience in the moment.
Being present.
Opening to what is so.

I appreciate that I’m not saying anything new here.
In fact, this sounds suspiciously like all that spiritual stuff we’ve been studying for so long now:
“Be here now.”
“Be present.”
“Bring your attention to this moment.”
“Do not judge.”
“Bring compassion to your experience.”

But while we’re looking at lightening our load, managing our time, focusing our priorities, etc…
Here we are…

There will continue to be moments that we can choose to experience as stress…


Breathe… (another of those old spiritual truisms)


2 responses to “Stress

  1. “Stress is not directly proportional to how much we have to do.”

    From what I’ve found, it’s easier to get in the zone when other parts of your life don’t get in the way. For example, when I stick to my exercise routine (and hence my normal sleep patterns), it’s much easier to find the sweet spot with my work.

    “No one and no thing can make us feel stressed-
    events do happen-stress is in how we respond to events”

    Exactly. As Dr. Phil says, “There is no reality, only perception.”

    “Stress is resistance to what is happening in the moment
    or –thinking about the future from a place of fear”

    And the resistance or fear is coming from our lizard brain. That’s one tough little bugger to try to control.

    “We are not at the mercy of our state of being”

    Absolutely true. We can always take steps to regain control. Exercise is my favorite first step. A long hike (without an MP3 player) allows me to spend time outdoors in the sunshine, enjoy nature, get the blood pumping, control my weight, meditate, sleep better, and get healthier overall. It also helps me feel like I’m taking positive action.

    Great blog!


  2. I couldn’t agree more, except for the part about ‘the future from a place of fear’ part, but I do think stress can be managed almost entirely through perception.
    I also really agree with ‘We are not at the mercy of our state of being.’ Really good insight.

    Thanks for the thought.


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