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Stress Management: The Right Goals & The Wrong Goals

This is the first of a series of articles exploring themes from my Stress Resilience Blueprint – a one-page statement of what you need for effective stress and anxiety management.

Success in any project depends on clearly defining the outcomes or goals. (I like to think of stress management as a project.) Going after the wrong goals means the project is likely to fail, or even make your situation worse.

That might sound like a truism but it's surprising how many people are naively pursuing the wrong goals – wrong because they're impossible to achieve, and wrong because they wouldn't really satisfy anyway.

You may have come across the prayer they use in AA which, paraphrasing, suggests we need three things:

  1. courage to change what can be changed
  2. serenity to accept what can't be changed
  3. wisdom to know the difference.

You can apply this to pretty much everything – get this right and you've got life sorted. But it's easier said than done – especially the third part.

When it comes to stress, what can and can't be changed?

Probably the thing we'd most like to change is the feelings – anxiety to begin with, or anger. Imagine your boss asking you to give a presentation to senior management. If you're like a lot of my clients this can produce an immediate “gut” response – maybe even just imagining it does.

My point is, the feeling happens so fast it's clear we're not choosing it, or deciding to go ahead with it – it's involuntary, at least in the immediate moment.

Another category of things hard to change are thoughts and beliefs – for example, “I'm hopeless at presentations”, or even (in the middle of said presentation, “everyone thinks I look stupid”). Again, these thoughts pop into the mind unbidden.

Yet so many people adopt a stress coping strategy of (i) avoiding difficult emotions as much as possible and (ii) if they do come up, struggling to push them out of awareness (what I call resistance).

Trouble is, these strategies tend to make things worse more often than not. (I'll say more about why that is, in a following article.)

So what is the right goal for our stress management project?

Successful, emotionally-intelligent people aren't so lucky as to never feel difficult emotions like anxiety and irritability. Rather, they can recover easily, and quickly return to a baseline of positivity.

We can call this ability “resilience”. It's the real goal in stress management. The most important thing to say about it right now is that it is a skill-set, and can be learned and developed, given the right tools and the right training.

Stay tuned for more articles in this sequence, unpacking what's involved in the skill-set of resilience.

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I've created a summary statement of what everyone needs for effective stress management: how to work with anxiety, panic, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, low mood and other stress-related symptoms.

This plan is a blueprint of what my services and products aim to deliver.

Sign-up to receive a one-page summary and watch a short video commentary.

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Mind-Body Intelligence

How To Manage Your Mind With Biofeedback & Mindfulness

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  • Underlying dynamics in stress & anxiety
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