Our lives seem to be more stressful than they have ever been, and although there might be good reasons for this, we all need ways to deal with stress when it arises.
You have a tough day at work. It starts badly with a missed alarm, you arrive late to the ward round so are unprepared when the boss expects you to know the patients. You get into a fight with the radiology registrar because he won't do the scan you need. Patients are piling up in ED and the day ward is calling you incessantly.
'Why did I forget to turn on my alarm? Idiot.'
'I don't know any of my patients, my boss thinks I'm a fool.'
'I can't be everywhere at once, and I can't seem to do anything well.'
Does this sound stressful? In their book 'Work Without Stress', Derek Roger and Nick Petrie highlight the concept that most of our daily work challenges are filled with pressure, not stress. It can be helpful to reframe how you feel when the day is getting busy. Pressure is when there is a demand on you to perform.
When you keep telling yourself negative stories of what these pressures mean about you as a person - this is what creates stress. Persistent negative stories dominating our thoughts is rumination.
Ruminate: to persistently churn over emotional upsets
More than 2500 years ago the wise teacher Buddha described the mind as being filled with dozens of drunken monkeys, all clamouring for attention, jumping around screeching, chattering and carrying on endlessly.
Pressure + Rumination = Stress
Pressure is an inherent part of your job. It's never going to go away, even with the best of planning things will never run smoothly every day. People will be unreasonable, there will be too much work and not enough hours in the day.
The way you respond to pressures that arise is up to you. Some people might have a greater inherent resilience to stress, but no-one is immune and you will have a much happier and healthier life if you actively learn and practice techniques to avoid stress.
What can I do?
Some ways to help you avoid stress include:
Quiet your mind. Even within a busy, noisy workplace, you can find ways to focus your attention, quieten the monkeys and stop ruminating.
Stay present in the moment. Being fully present and connecting with those around us help to build better relationships.
Handle emotions with care. What is the emotional tone of the person in front of you? How can you manage others' strong emotions without compromising yourself? Express how you are feeling about things in a way that satisfies your need to be heard, but in a way that allows for you both to move forward.
Keep things in perspective. Negative rumination can make the world seem a much worse place than it really is. Learn to understand what really matters and don't define yourself or others by one area of life.
Try to stay 'Above the line'
When you are reflecting on a situation in a neutral or positive way which results in a solution or path forward for the future, this is 'above the line' thinking. This also means accepting that your recall of a past situation may not be entirely accurate. Everything we perceive passes through a filter of our own creation - our own mental model of the world we experience.
Rumination is below the line thinking. When you do this, you:
Churn over the past with regret and speculate about the future with anxiety.
Inflexibly insist that events were exactly as you remembered them and refuse to be adaptable with solutions.
Persistent rumination can lead to negative behaviours that are disastrous, not only for our own wellbeing, but for those around us.
We all need to strengthen our skills in dealing with pressure and handling others with emotional intelligence.
Buddha's solution to stress
Buddha taught his students how to meditate in order to control the drunken monkeys in their minds. He said that if you spend a brief time each day in quiet meditation you can, with time, tame the monkeys. Meditation is useful both as a daily practice to bring a quiet presence to your life, but also as a way to approach challenging or stressful situations in the moment. It can help you sleep at night if you find yourself ruminating over the day's events.
If you have never tried meditation before, it's definitely worth the modest investment. There are lots of resources online, but one I recommend is the mobile app 'Headspace'. It gives you 10 free meditations to get started and, if you subscribe, a whole bunch of guided ones for various situations. At the end of the day, it's about each of us being aware of the need to calm the monkey mind and be present in the moment. This will go a long way to preventing the pressures of our lives from turning into stress.
If you think this is important, join the positive leadership movement and talk about these issues. Share/like on social media, so others know you believe in it and the word spreads. Be the change you want to see in our health care system.