Thoughts on Stress Free Living:
The Stress Level Test - Free Monitoring Diary
Welcome to my thoughts on stress free living. We're going to look at defining stress, how stress can affect your attention and what to do about it.
Can you define stress? Well, stress is an extreme response to an uncomfortable situation. In the modern world it is not usually a matter of life or death; but if unchallenged it can start to feel that way. Stress is your body’s response to threat. The way an animal responds to threat is to narrow its attentional focus down to the one thing that really matters; its survival.
This narrowing of attention is very useful for an animal when a pride of lions is tracking them on the Serengeti. They have the benefits of limited possible actions and the genetic heritage of millennia of doing the same things to the same threats. Once survival is assured the animal can go back to the more mundane tasks of eating and finding a mate. This process is automatic and highly functional. You might say that natural selection has selected it as a good thing to do.
Thoughts on Stress Free Living: What stress feels like
For humans high levels of stress from home or work life can feel akin to the threat of extinction. And when you feel that sense of panic rising you don’t worry about what’s for dinner or if you are going to get a parking ticket; you’re solely concerned with how to survive. Consequently your brain still responds to threat the way all animals respond to threat by the narrowing of attentional focus to the most important matter at hand; survival. Of course, humans differ from animals in many ways. But one way we are similar is in our response to threat.
Thoughts on Stress Free Living: Why stress isn’t helpful
Unfortunately, if you find yourself on a sinking ship, or trying to escape from a house fire, or lost in the wilderness or one of any number of genuinely life threatening situations then it is not at all helpful if your attention narrows. Narrowed attention limits your options, it prevents you from seeing possible solutions and it pushes you to fix on one solution and then stick with it even if it proves to be unworkable. Evidence from numerous studies as well as the practical experience of many stress busting experts has taught us that when stress rises fighting the tendency to narrow attention is very worthwhile. It keeps options open longer; it contributes to active problem solving and it generates more creative outcomes.
Thoughts on Stress Free Living: How to keep your attention wide
The problem we face is how to learn to keep attention wide in the face to threat? Lets’ explore how to achieve this:
Our first problem is that we don’t always appreciate how much stress we are under. We have become used to stress and can just absorb more and more until we just crumble and admit enough is enough.
The second problem is we are often unsure what our cut-off is between ‘I can cope’ and I cannot cope’, this is a genuinely gray area.
The third problem is that we often fail to plan what to do if stress gets above acceptable levels.
Thoughts on Stress Free Living: Stress Level Test
I have been thinking about this problem for a while and I have devised a solution to the problem of monitoring stress levels which includes also having in place an action plan. The Stress Level Test - Free Monitoring Diary is a sheet for you to print out and place on a wall or easily accessible place. It is an ongoing stress level test designed to keep you in a mindful state about your stress levels while also offering you viable options for reducing the stress. You can download the Stress Level Test - Free Monitoring Diary here and begin now.
In the first instance think about what levels of stress you are comfortable with. What is tolerable and you know you can cope with? The accompanying film gives the example of 4/10 being my acceptable level. In this instance I would draw a green line at 4 on the STRESS LEVEL SCALE and colour everything below that in green with a green pencil or pen.
Decide the area on the 0 – 10 STRESS LEVEL SCALE stress line that represents the danger zone for stress; this is the amber zone then draw a line on that to represent the need to take action to move out of the danger zone. Then colour the remainder of the scale in red because that is the place when you need to take very great care because your attention is definitely narrowed and you probably operating below optimum levels.
Thoughts on Stress Free Living: Lifesavers
The Stress Level Test - Free Monitoring Diary is a tool you can use to recognise when you are straying into dangerous amounts of stress and the list of do’s and don’ts are life savers. In the area of the Stress Monitoring Diary labelled Do’s make a list of things you know are great stress busters for you. It might include things like; take a bath, talk to a friend, go for a walk, watch a DVD, take some time alone, cook a meal, listen to music, take a massage, go to a gym or take a run, make a list, stand back from things, exercise, have sex. It is your list so you can put on there anything you want. This is a list of things you do that always reduce your stress levels and anything that works for you is fair game.
Thoughts on Stress Free Living: Things you shouldn’t do
In the list of don’ts make a list of things you definitely should not do. It could include, drive a car, take on more work, work harder, stay late, criticise yourself, feel guilty, drink a lot, make big decisions, operate machinery, take drugs, keep the problem inside, get angry, try to park in a busy place, buy expensive things, undertake risky behaviour. Anything you know is going to make things worse can be put on this list.
Thoughts on Stress Free Living: How to make the stress level test work for you
The objective is to maintain your stress levels in the green zone. Each day assess your stress level in the morning and afternoon, marked as AM and PM on the Monitoring Diary and in the appropriate space make either a green, amber or red mark. If your stress rises to the amber danger zone then you will need to undertake one of the Do’s activities in order to bring your stress level down, back into the green zone.
Thoughts on Stress Free Living: I thrive on stress
You may think that you always operate in the amber or even in the red stress zones and that is just how things are. Well your efficiency is going to be impaired in the danger zones of amber and definitely in red, despite what you may think. We are talking about elevated levels of stress that alter your blood chemistry. This has an effect on you.
The dangerous thing about narrowed attention is that you do not know it is narrowed. If you recognise it is narrowed then it is unlikely to be. The narrowing process is automatic and therefore it takes you to a place where your survival instincts are starting to dominate you actions. That is okay on the Serengeti but not in human adult life. A core element of any psychological change process is remembering to do the exercises you need to do. This Stress Level Test - Free Monitoring Diary will help you in that regard.
I hope that my thoughts on stress free living and the stress level test - free monitoring diary will help you to cope with stress in your own life.