Claudia Black, one of the founders of the recovery movement, and an adult child of an alcoholic, was quoted as saying, “We don’t know how to relax.” One of the most important responsibilities of a mother is to comfort and soothe her child out of the distressing feelings of hurt, shame, anger, embarrassment, fear and all the rest. When this happens countless times over the years the brain wires up in response so that we can later in life soothe ourselves and calm down. As adults one of the most difficult places that children of trauma have to deal with is the workplace. We simply don’t have the emotional tools to effectively address the pressures, and this can prove to be deadly.
Years ago I attended a packed business seminar of about 800 people in a hotel ballroom. The speaker shared a story that I have never forgotten. It was about a man who had lived a relentlessly hard-charging, Type A existence. That all came to an end the day he went to the bank. The line was long and slowly inching forward. Internally feeding off his anger and frustration that he couldn’t get to the teller faster, as he had a number of things to get done that day, proved to be the last bit of stress his body could take. The next thing he knew he collapsed to the carpet and had a heart attack. The presenter drove home his point by telling his audience that a new book had recently been published that connected stress with mortality; the title, Is it Worth Dying For? I don’t remember anything else from that day, but the connection between stress and death has always stayed with me. It is true that stress can kill you, but before it kills you it will make you miserable and the people around you miserable as well. Stress is defined as a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize. In becoming stressed, people make two main judgments: first they feel threatened by the situation, and second they doubt that their capabilities and resources are sufficient to meet the threat. Long-term stress can trigger depression and anxiety.
The symptoms of stress are so unpleasant that if we don’t handle it the right way we will handle it the wrong way. We can medicate it through addictions which provide quick relief but ultimately creates its own set of problems. We can discharge the anger component of stress by taking it out on innocent people. The classic example is the cartoon of the boss yelling at an employee; who dangerously speeds home and blasts through the door raging at his wife; who hysterically screams at the kids; who viciously kick the dog. We can offload our stress onto someone else demanding that they fix our problems for us. Stress is a cancer of the soul. However just as there are procedures and treatments that heal cancer of the body, there are tools we can implement that will release the malignant choke hold of stress from our minds and emotions. There is a plethora of information available on how to get stress under control. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle will provide defenses against stress. Most of us know the drill: eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, have a support system, practice faith, rest, have enjoyable events to look forward to. However how many of us have the discipline to actually keep this lifestyle going on a regular basis?
Get negative thinking under control. Negative thinking run rampant can sabotage our lives. Those thoughts are like darting flies that swiftly come and go. We may not even be conscious of negative thoughts, because they enter our mind and leave so quickly. We must capture and challenge the negative thoughts to see if they stand up to fair scrutiny. For instance if you are worried about your performance you can ask yourself questions like, “Have I prepared appropriately?” “Do I have the information and resources I need?’ If you can answer yes, then you are well positioned to give your best performance. If the answer is no then reach out and get what you need to perform well.
Discover relaxation techniques like music, massage, gentle stretching and guided imagery. My chiropractor used to say to me just as he was getting ready to do an adjustment, “Go to your happy place.” Focusing on “my happy place” loosened my muscles and made for a more effective adjustment. We all need “happy places” in our minds that can evoke the relaxation response.
As children of trauma we have to learn now what we should have learned in early childhood. However the brain is plastic enough that with enough experiences of compassion and new programming we can pick up the tools for better coping skills at any age. The pressures and busyness of twenty first century living lends itself to stress. It will take a determined effort to swim against the tide to create a life of calm and serenity. However dealing with workplace stress effectively will make us more productive and creative. It will make our personal lives far richer. The rewards for yourself, your fellow employees, and your loved ones are more than worth the effort.