Standing at the Self Help Books area in Barnes And Nobles, New York, I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of topics one can help herself in. I was in New York for a short holiday, to get away from it all and energize, and I heard my therapist in the back of my mind, saying “recharging in NY is not a solution, Laura. It is an instrument, but it’s effects will wear out. You’ll have to make real changes”. Yeah yeah yeah. So, stressed out from all the choices in self help books, I stumbled upon this one. RESET: Make the most of your stress.
Admittingly, the book appealed to me because of its positive approach towards stress. I happen to think that stress is part of life, and is quite good in some areas. Where would you be without a little adrenaline, right?
Well, it took me nearly two months to read it. I have to say, just opening the book gave me an uncomfortable feeling (must.do.something.about.life). But yes, I managed. And honestly, it’s a good book. It gave me quite some eye openers. So I’ll share these with you.
Dr. Kris is a therapist who helps many people coping with stress, and has created her own system for it. She has a quite stressful life herself, and regularly provides you with examples of her own life. That’s a nice touch, I’m always more prone to believe people who have been there themselves over the scientific ‘I studied it so it’s true’ approach.
To start with the positives. Eustress is the type of stress you want. It has a positive effect on your performance, and allows you to jump higher. It motivates you, and gives you energy. On the contrary, the types of stress you don’t want: rumination (overthinking), anxiety, self awareness, phobias and obsessive thinking. From this list, I can relate most to the first two. Thinking about why things were said, what this means in that context, how it could have been better, yes- been there done that. Or, I still do it. Causing anxiety.
Put your own mask on first
A nice visualization is that of the lady in the airplane, who first helps herself to her mask and then her child in case of emergency. This is the red line throughout the book. I think many managers – again, including myself – are prone to the threat of wanting to be at the office first, giving a good example, leaving latest, helping all. But to place yourself first in case of stress is a different kind of thinking. Dr. Kris confronts you: what’s the last time you had fun? Do you get enough sleep? Do you exercise regularly? Eat and drink healthy? Are well connected to a support system? Set your own boundaries? Have faith? Hmmm, except for my support system and my exercising regime, I am quite guilty of not giving the rest enough attention. And that is what the book is about: Self-care.
More visualizations: if you slowly bring water with a frog in it to boil, he will not jump out. But put him in boiling water, he will immediately do so. What happens in our lives often, is that the water comes to a boil gradually. And then, you find yourself in a threatening situation that you didn’t see coming, because it built up over time.
Freeze, fight, flight
How we deal with stress, can be categorized in three modus’. Dr. Kris explains that the freezer is the person who is just unable to move. Interestingly enough, one of my teammembers reacted exactly like this. I couldn’t believe it, because she just didn’t do anything. We all saw the problems coming, and all it took would be a phone call or asking someone for help, but no – she froze and did nothing. Unimaginable to me. I am more the type of person who fights. If my stress level reaches highs, I explode. My anxiety brings out the worst nasty outbursts. Funnily Dr. Kris mentions that anxiety and anger are closely related, which gives me some more perspective on my anger recently. Flighter modus is when you make rash decisions, abandon relationships, get overly excited and drive everyone around them crazy, then leaving the stage. I also know some people who indeed cope with stress like that. So these three ways to cope with anxiety are natural, but can become a problem when they get out of hand.
Dr. Kris writes much about the context of stress (society, family relations, personality traits) and the way modern psychology is evolving towards a more positive approach (doing what you’re good at, motivational interviewing, appreciative inquiry) which is a good thing, but became a little too scientific for me to be useful. We’re all on the diagnostic spectrum somewhere or sometimes in your life, but I’ll leave the part of autism, ADD/ADHD, bipolar depression and behavioral therapies for that, up to you to read in the book if you’re interested in that.
Sprinters, skippers, tumblers
Another categorization is the one about how we think. Dr. Kris tells us there are three ways how you can react or how the thought process works: like a sprinter, skipper and tumbler. Sprinters rush to judgement, and can be quite extreme. They automatically assume the worst. Triggers for sprinters can be public presentations, confrontations, organising family holidays – for which insecurity can be an underlying cause.
Skippers pay most attention to what does not go well, view themselves negatively and can get stuck and discouraged. I think I’m more of a skipper then a sprinter. I have absolutely no problem with a public presentation – but afterwards I can remember exactly what I should do differently next time….
Tumblers have thought processes in which they catastrophize. Once this begins, it is difficult for them to regain stability. It is hard to end overthinking. All of these three thought processes also have a positive side, Dr. Kris adds: it shows caring and concern. You’d also not want to be too laid back and miss opportunity…
Before she cuts to the chase, dr. Kris also elaborates on the fact that ‘there is no such thing as a big break’. And yes, I am painfully aware of that. The ‘if only this project is completed’ way of thinking is not uncommon to me. ‘If only that is out of the way, I’ll be able to focus on things that actually matter/make me happy/et cetera’. Well, I already realized that after that project, there will always be another one. So good advice from dr. Kris: don’t wait for the golden ticket, no more ‘what if’s’, ‘more’ is not the same as happy, ánd don’t think balance is ideal: there always be an element of stress.
Resilience, self confidence and independence
The perfect example for stressful living, is the palm tree. This tree can bend so much that it can survive hurricanes. This is what you should aim for, being able to grow and repair yourself even during or after a storm. Necessary for resilience is a sense of independence. I can relate to that; I have seen quite some situations in which groupthink caused several people to become negatively tuned. The ones who were able to think for themselves, managed to grow. The others go stuck in the downward spiral. Also, self-efficacy – the belief one can do it- is quite important for resilience says Dr. Kris.
So: the RESET framework to get better equipped to cope with stress, looks like this:
R: Realize. Don’t act on a first response, but take some time to reflect and be aware of yourself. Reframe negative thoughts of blame, towards the bigger picture.
E: Energize. Take care of your body, by eating well, sleeping, getting enough exercise and human touch. Funnily I learnt that last one – I now get a massage every week- only recently.
S: Soothe. Create an environment that is either stimulating or soothing. Allow yourself to take a nice bath, eat and drink nice things: but be careful that soothing does not become overeating or drinking. Take your time to experience senses.
E: End unproductive thinking. Stop ruminating and use the time for productive thoughts. Commit to being a lifelong learner, instead of getting distracted. Use a mantra for positive focussed thinking.
T: Talk it out. Use talking – for example, therapy – to find new views and ways of thinking, but be careful of ‘talking traps’, where you repeat things over and over, or complain constantly. Assess your relationships: who gives you positive energy and who drags you down? Find inspiring networks, and mentors.
With this framework in mind, the books asks you to make an action plan. What works, what did not work? It first asks you to check how much stress is in your life. Great, I had a 10 out of 10. Perfect score, too bad about the subject;) Then, it asks you to write down your goals, SMART. It gives some great examples – very doable. I started of with a way too ambitious goal (of course) but for example ‘get one hour of sleep extra per night’ is much better to work towards (and less stressfull). I found this book really inspiring, and it motivated me to increase my self-care. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
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