We’re in the festive season and lo and behold, stress has been coming up a lot with clients recently so I thought I’d try tackle it this week! The most common form of stress that I’m seeing for our generation is a mix of anxiety and feeling flat or sad. Now, we all have stress in our lives- and we know that some days can be worse than others depending on what we have on our plate at any given moment!
Stress in itself is not a problem- some people thrive on having an impending deadline (or at least tell themselves that they do!) But stress can become a problem when we feel we can’t control it– when the pressure on us outweighs our ability to cope. When we feel under pressure or that we can’t cope, we tend to default to our patterned ways of responding -we either over function or we under function. I’m a complete under-functioner!
The first time I came across this concept was in a book called ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Dr Brene Brown. This idea of how we handle stress blew me away because I had definitely experienced it but never really understood it before. The theory is that we all have patterned ways of responding to stress/anxiety. We either respond by over functioning or under functioning. Neither is good or bad, right or wrong- it just is what it is.
Over-functioners respond to stress by wanting to take charge of the situation. They become controlling, feel that they have to rescue others, they take over, micromanage, and tend to believe they know what is best for others rather than looking at themselves first. Their thought pattern goes something like this ‘It’s up to me. I’m the only one who can do x,y,z. It needs to be done this way’………etc etc!
They can see other people as either unwilling or unable to ‘shape up’ to their standard. Rather than feel vulnerable they go into action mode. They often can get labelled as bossy, controlling and a know it all and they absolutely hate being thought of that way!
Under-functioners like myself, respond to stress by wanting to avoid the situation. They get caught up in their feelings, feel too vulnerable and start showing up less. They tend to get less competent under stress, they detach, procrastinate and retreat from the world. Their thought pattern goes something like this ‘I’m not good enough. I don’t know. I can’t’………etc etc!
They can see other people as overbearing and demanding. They can often get labelled as lazy and unreliable and they hate the idea of people thinking that of them.
The key thing is to remember that these are patterned responses to stress and anxiety, rather than truths about who we are. THIS DOES NOT DEFINE YOU. Understanding this point helps us to understand that we can ALL learn to take control of how we tend to handle stress.
So, how about you. Do you tend to over function or under function when you are under stress?
Here’s what to do:
We all need people in our lives that we trust and who will be brutally honest with us! We need to ask for their help- rather than tell you that you’re being controlling or unreliable which would make you feel ashamed of yourself and even more stressed- these trusted people need to focus on your behaviour.
It is easier for Over-functioners to ‘do’ than to ‘feel’ so if this is your default response to stress then you need to work on being more willing to embrace your vulnerabilities in the face of stress. Imagine, something incredibly stressful is happening in your world right now and you go into to default mode of operating, organising, delegating and taking charge. Someone you trust comes up to you, looks you in the eye and says ‘You’re over-functioning. You’re not on your own.’ This allows you to take a step back, breathe and realise that you’re not on your own and you have support.
It is easier for Under-functioners to ‘avoid’ than to ‘feel’ so they need to work on building their self regard and strengths. So imagine something incredibly stressful is happening in your world right now and you go into your default mode of operating- you start to step back, retreat and feel that you have nothing to offer. You need someone to come to you, look you in the eye and say ‘You’re under-functioning. You have what it takes. Your opinion matters and you need to step up and be involved’. This allows you to breathe and acknowledge what can be done. You can break things down into smaller pieces and tackle things in pieces.
Other things you can do to help during stressful times include:
- Get more exercise- go for a walk, a swim, yoga- anything! Get your body moving and if possible, exercise outdoors.
- Cut back on caffeine!
- Practice calm and stillness- for you this could be meditation or mindfulness. For me, this is purposefully going for a walk on the beach with the intention of calming my mind
- Get it off your chest- express your emotions either by talking to someone, writing in a diary- whatever works for you! If I’m really stressed or upset, I’ll actually watch a sad movie that I know will have me in tears at the end! It’s a way to release the built up tension or emotion! (Especially for over-functioners)
- Bank your successes! By this I mean, make a note of all the times that you stepped up and did great despite your anxiety! Try journalling regularly and making a note each day of 3 things you did that day that demonstrated self confidence or self regard! (Especially for under-functioners)
I hope this issue of Progress has been helpful to you and that this concept has resonated with you as much as it did me when I first read about it. I think it’s really powerful and I challenge each of you to take some time to think about what your default response to stress is! Then, go and find people who are willing and able to speak the truth to you when you need them to.
Until next week!