Hello, new and returning readers!
I hope all of you are doing well and are staying safe. The world is going through some difficulties right now and for the foreseeable future. If you’ve been a long time reader of my blog, you know that I believe personal and professional development are closely related. Growth in one area will certainly impact your life and be a force multiplier positively affecting every aspect of it.
I wanted to share my tips on what works for me in times of stress, but I made it a clickbait-y title so it would seem more timely. Stress is stress, so I’ve used these techniques for years, regardless of the source of stress. Interestingly, the last year or two is the calmest I've ever been. I've learned it's true, worrying means you suffer twice. And even right now, amongst all that is happening, I think it's truly eye opening that there is only so much one can do when a virus exists asymptomatically. Wash your hands, wear a mask, be distanced, be proactive, help others, and take good care of yourself. You can only do your part. So below are 5 tips for dealing with stress that I hope will help you in some small way.
1) Diversify your identity.
I wish I could remember which blogger gentleman wrote at length about this concept of your self esteem coming from more than one source. (I had read it a few years ago.) Much like one diversifies their financial portfolio to reduce risk, the same should be done for your emotional and mental health. When I came across this concept, it was so simple, yet so remarkable.
Instead of viewing oneself as an accomplished, contributing breadwinner, provider, or citizen, take stock that you are also many other things. You are most likely a few of the following - an unwavering family member, reliable friend, devoted pet owner, helpful neighbor, a curious hobbyist, loving significant other, loyal sibling, dedicated parent, generous volunteer, studious learner, skilled amateur chef or baker, a handy DIYer, a selfless stranger, and the list goes on.
Don’t stake all your self confidence on one, narrow sliver of your humanity. When, not if, something negative happens, the other areas you’ve invested your time, energy, and emotions will still keep you afloat. And they are very likely the very things that will get you through a tough time.
2) Process your story frequently.
I am a big fan of Steve Jobs’ philosophy about only being able to connect the dots by looking backwards. He illustrates this by mentioning 3 pivotal moments that spanned ten years. (Dropping out, calligraphy class, and Mac having beautiful fonts) I’ve found myself applying that same principle in increments of months and within a couple years vs through decades.
Taking the time to look for patterns in your life and contemplating what those decisions or events mean gives you a more cohesive perspective. It’s like data mining your own life. What does the data say about who you are, your skill set, your values, your passion, your principles, where you’re headed, your goals, and what’s important to you?
Doing this helped me professionally and personally. When I sat down and wrote a list of all the tasks, projects, the people, and companies I worked with, I noticed common occurrences. It helped write my unique selling point and summarize my career into one sentence. I could see all the skills I used repeatedly, all the circumstances I was hired and why, that I had repeat clients, and I was able to brand myself better.
When I look at my personal life, I can re-frame my perspective and find things to be grateful for. Sometimes you can’t see the silver lining until you wait. Sometimes what seems like a bad event turns out to be fine or even good, you just didn't know it at the time. There can only be new beginnings by ending old chapters. The reality is, sometimes that call is made by you, sometimes it's not. Decisions, risks, events, and information become more clear and take on a different meaning once you start moving through life and the dust settles. I get it though, the waiting is hard. Case in point, during this pandemic, or any time you have an emergency, really, I’m sure many people have learned how valuable time and resources are, and who is very much in their inner circle. You learn who you can count on, rely on. You’ve probably also learned what money can and can not buy. And that the best things in life are free. Still, I know we're all waiting for life to return to normal. That day will come.
3) Theme your life.
Very often when you are stressed out, it is instinctive to want to do everything to fix the situation. The stress is gnawing at you, you’re looking for a solution, you’re restless. One of the best things you can do is step back and take a break, however short. One reason is to sort through your emotions. Another reason is to have some sort of normalcy in your life, even if only a little bit.
One of the best ways to do this is to take whatever your necessary daily activities are and give it a theme. By theme-ing your life, the process of accomplishing whatever activities you normally have to do anyway, now become a learning tool, a goal setting objective, and a way to gamify your life by adding an overarching theme.
Here are 2 examples of themes I had incorporated in my life previously, John Hughes and My Existential Crisis Cooking.
First, John Hughes... Whenever I needed to relax and wanted to watch a movie at home, I decided I’d watch every single John Hughes movie I could because I had not seen most of them. I chose John Hughes because at the time I worked in entertainment, there was a resurgence in teen movies, and romcoms are always a long-standing genre. I could get in a breadth of movie history while relaxing and it would help me catch up on iconic pop culture that I was lacking. Who said being a couch potato was laziness? I’m expanding my MIND! LOL (FYI - My favorite was Say Anything. Yours?)
My existential crisis cooking project came about when I was figuring out how I wanted to pivot and gain more work life balance. Because I had been a workaholic for so long, I rarely cooked. So I made it a point to cook every single day, trying out new recipes, looking for ingredients I had never used, and going on a culinary adventure from my own kitchen. I pinched and rolled homemade pot stickers and egg rolls. I made soups from scratch and stir frys. So while this didn’t directly enhance my career, I had more fun with life skills everyone should have. One could argue, eating healthy and fresh foods does help my body and mind, which does help me function better!
4) Learn the art of storytelling.
Stories are everywhere. In how you recount your day to someone, the trajectory of your career, how you met and fell in love. A good story is a good story, regardless of the genre. Even in its most basic element, a story doesn’t have to be funny, or dramatic, or the best story you ever heard. It only has to be interesting. It has to have a beginning, middle, and end. It has to make sense. And aside from that, it only has to be unique. And everyone can tell a unique story because there is only one of you. Part of a good story is in the delivery. Even if the story is only mildly interesting, if you’re excited to share the story, the listener will be that much happier to listen. If you put your own spin or perspective on it, it amps up the quality of the story.
Learning how to tell a story is very seldom discussed. But once you get the hang of it, it’ll open more doors than you realize. Including the stories you tell yourself.
5) Focus on this hour.
We’re in strange times right now. Even if we weren’t, life can be difficult. Train yourself to only think about this hour when you feel like there’s not much more you can handle. If even that seems too daunting, focus only on getting through the next 15-30 min. Think about what you can fix now, what’s in your control immediately, or what you can do right now that will make your situation even slightly better for the long haul. Too often we get bogged down by too many details, too much of the big picture, and we get overwhelmed. When you are at your absolute limit, ask yourself, “What do I need right THIS second?” Maybe it’s a snack, some water, a nap, to write a to do list so you feel less stressed, a walk outside, to pet your dog or cat, to surf the internet for 10 minutes. Doing one small thing to help your mind, body, or future is better than doing nothing. Do something now to get you to the next step, the next hour.
Share your thoughts below if found these helpful or have tried these before. (I’m also writing on Part 2 of this column as we speak.)
***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you're the one who ASKED and read the post? :)
As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address.
I also write over at Jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant.