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20 Coping Skills for Stress That Will Help You Stay Strong

My latest article for Life Hack

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Few things in life are guaranteed, although I can be quite certain when I say:

Someone is going to really annoy you. Someone is going to die and leave you feeling empty and unable to go on. Something out of the blue is going to challenge you to the core of your humanity. Something is going to breakdown and stop working at the most inopportune moment you could imagine. You are going to spend money on something you really don’t want to. You are going to be forced to do something you never thought you’d do. You are going to face a challenge that feels completely soul destroying…

How can you know these things, Mandie?

I hear you ask.

Well because as my dear Nan used to say “In every life, a little rain must fall.” Looking back as I watched Nan cook a meal worthy of gods or any childhood dream sequence I know I used to struggle with what that saying meant.

Of course some rain must fall, we would die without water, I used to think.

However on the other side of childhood where bills, maintenance, insurance and other boring things exist, I’m pretty sure I get the true meaning of that saying.

The intriguing thing is that I’m a keen reader and find that so much in personal and professional development and in the pursuit of happiness is aimed at ensuring we don’t just have wellies, brollies and waterproofs, to protect us from the rain in life, but that we are so far removed from any wet stuff we can’t appreciate the damage that this polar opposite can also have on our positive existence.

I want to share with you some of the top coping skills for life that aren’t just good for the rainy days, they can have a serious impact on your life.

Into every life, some tough times appear, it is not the tough times that define us, it’s how we deal with them that does.

All very well having great sentiments like that; however when your car has broken down, you feel ill and can’t stop because deadlines are looming, your cat’s puked in your shoes, your phone won’t hold a charge, and they are making people redundant at work it can be hard to have the a positive “Can do” attitude.

Let’s look at what to do (And I promise to make these ideas easy to action, life changing if applied, fast and reliable. Promise):

1. Find out the Real Cause of the Problem

I’m a keen believer that if you can’t see what’s going on, I mean really see, then you can’t fix it. I’m often coaching a client who will walk in telling me that X is the issue when 20 minutes later we’ve delved into their minds and discovered that X was just a symptom of the problem.

And as you probably know treating symptoms and not the actual problem rarely works. The real issue is left to carry on wrecking your health, happiness and mental well being.

How does this apply in stressful situations? Have you ever had a friend that was pregnant, or you lost or gained weight, or realized that you were “suddenly” in this really bad habit of walking in the door at night and instantly grabbing a cold beverage?

That didn’t just start, over time that gradually became more prominent. And when things sneak into our lives, be a beautiful baby bump or an unwanted 10lb, it didn’t just land on you overnight.

2. Ask Yourself the Difficult Questions

So to find out how you are coping with stressful situations, ask yourself some questions:

  • How do I feel right now on a scale of 1 to 10? (10 being awesome and 1 being awful)
  • Is there a pattern to the way I feel caused by my environment?
  • Is there a pattern to the way I feel caused by my beliefs?
  • Is there a pattern to the way I feel caused by my work?

Take the time to process your response to these 4 questions. They could become powerful in every aspect of your life.

3. Notice Your Reactions

When we become aware of our surroundings, our situation and the way they make us feel we need to learn to notice the impact of these things.

Not to start moaning at ourselves and berating us for being lazy, thick, stupid, sloppy, etc, just to notice. Above is about noticing the patterns we create, and this skill is about noticing how it impacts on you.

  • How does it make you feel?
  • How does it make you act?
  • How does it make you behave?
  • How does it make you think?

At this stage you don’t have to think, do, say or act any differently just notice what happens in stressful situations.

4. Measure and Locate Where You Are Now

Peter Drucker famously says,[1]

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Therefore when you start to notice how you feel, act and behave in stressful times and have understood more about the way it impacts on you, you are then in a position to create a benchmark graph.[2]

5. Be Honest About Your Progress

In stressful situations, we can find ourselves with our heads down in the proverbial sand, with our hands over our ears yelling “la, la, la, la, la”.

While as kids, that’s hilarious to watch kids do that, as we grow up it’s a bit of an ice cold slap in the face that not being honest doesn’t fix anything and stops us from changing things. Be honest as you create the above bench mark graph.

Being honest is a powerful thing. When you’re honest with yourself, you raise self awareness and anyone looking to achieve anything in the 21st century is going to be determined to improve their own self awareness as we are starting to appreciate the power this can have.

Although Tasha Eurich[3] shares some scary research on this. Tasha Eurich, author of Insight; Why we’ve not as self aware as we think and how seeing ourselves clearly helps us succeed at work and in life says in an interview for Harvard Business Review that “95% of people believe they’re self-aware, however only about 10-15% actually are.” Adding “The joke I always make is that on a good day, 80% of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves.”[4]

6. Be Honest to Your World

In stressful times, it is not just important to be honest to ourselves, it’s important that you’re honest to those that are in your world. Some find that they can do this in their personal life but wouldn’t dream of saying anything at work; whereas others bottle it all up, with a smile and a lie that says “I’m fine.”

7. If You Aren’t Fine, Say It

You don’t have to turn into a moaning black cloud of doom, but being honest helps you and other people.

Showcasing your own limitations and stress can help other people to see the human that you are. We feel more connected to those that share honestly and are more likely to want to help them and at the very least probably less likely to add more to your work load.

I worked with someone that was petrified that work would find out how much they were struggling with the work load. This is what the conversation went like (and I’m sharing it so you can ask yourself similar questions):

Client: “I’m really struggling to hold it together.”

Me: “Have you told anyone?”

Client: “I can’t do that, it would be professional suicide. They’d be circling around me ready to pick the bones of my career in seconds.”

Me: “Do you know that to be true?”

Client: “It’s not worth the risk to find out.”

Me: “So if you don’t say something, what are you agreeing to?”

Client: “Feeling overwhelmed, stressed and about ready to quit.”

Me: “And are you happy to stay there or would you like to be somewhere else?”

Client: “Obviously somewhere else, but I can’t see how that’s possible.

Me: “Are you prepared to explore where you would like to be and how to get there?”

You can guess the answer! And using the tools below, guess what they discovered?

They weren’t alone! It was an issue throughout the department and changes were made for everyone. A bit of honesty can go along way!

8. Take Actions to Change

In stressful situations, the human being is pre-programmed to do everything in its power to escape the situation it finds itself in.

Fight or flight doesn’t really do this pre-programming justice. We are still alive because since the dawn of our time we’ve been able to adapt, change and escape situations that other species succumb to.

The issue is that we also fear change. I get more speaking engagements and corporate coaching gigs because people are struggling with change than possibly any other subject. The fact is while we can appreciate change can help in stressful situations, knowing and doing is not the same thing.

Ask yourself what could I change about this situation? (This is not what am I going to do, this is about making suggestions about what you could do.) And if they are the suggestions that have been rattling around in your head for the last few weeks, or keep you awake at night, they are less likely to be useful.

Really get in touch with your subconscious (and the good ideas) by asking:

“If money, time, skill, health, magic, beliefs or values weren’t factors in this situation what could I do?”

This enables your mind to explore some whacky ideas, however as Einstein (may have said) Creativity is intelligence having fun. And this exercise enables your mind to have some fun.

9. Don’t Change What You Can’t Change

I worked with a large organization that had been through massive change. Everyone had stepped up to the challenge, but everyone was really stressed. Those that were struggling the most kept reminding me that “it hadn’t always been like this”, and “the old way was a lot easier”.

Not all change can be controlled. And when we fight it, we can find ourselves escalating stress. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is learn to go with the flow.

If you don’t “choose” to go with the flow, ask yourself:

What are you agreeing to?

This questions enables you to see that you are going to get negative emotions, actions, conversations, damaged relationships and even health issues.

Change is sometimes dumped on us like a storm clouds contents, you could stand and moan at the storm cloud but it won’t stop you from getting wet.

10. Ask Yourself: Are You Creating It?

Some of life’s stresses are man made. And I’m not talking about someone else, I’m talking about you.

It is an ugly fact that none of us want to look at (so be brave) however have the strength to ask “Am I creating this stress?”

Remember to be honest. And let the answers come to you.

11. Know that Sh*t Happens

First spotted in the 60’s, this has been a famous saying since at least the 80’s, why? Because stuff does just happen.

As humans we are always looking for reason and understanding. “Why did this happen to me?” and we can often find ourselves down a rabbit run looking for ghosts of answers that just don’t exist.

Sometimes bad stuff happens. This does not define you. This is not a personal vendetta from a god or unseen deity, seriously sometimes all you can do is accept those 2 words – sh*t happens.

12. Control Your Mindset

A quick way to find yourself suffering an intenser version of stress is when you try to control it.

As a coach, I believe we can get out of situations and move forward, however I also know from the coping skill above that when we try to force the universe to bend in a new way, it can use up a lot of energy concentrating on the wrong things.

You can control what you think, you can change your actions, and sometimes the most powerful skill is to accept that this is out of your hands. Self awareness will help you understand the differences and what to do and when.

13. Say No More Often

We talked about the need to be honest and if you explore this coping mechanism further, you will see that as humans we really want to be liked. We want to get on with our neighbours, or colleagues our friend’s friends. The issue with this in stressful times we really do need to turn around and say things like:

  • No sorry I can’t help you.
  • No, now is not a good time.
  • No, I’m not finding this easy.
  • No, I can’t do it.

The reason we don’t say things like this is because we fear what people think of us. We want to be liked. We don’t want people think we don’t care, which leads me onto the next point.

14. Embrace Weakness

The above statements are often held in our heads unsaid because we don’t want to appear weak, awkward, incapable and a ton of other negatives. The interesting thing is that what we think people are thinking about us is so often untrue.

Take the client above that feared telling their boss they were struggling with their work load. On the contrary to looking weak and incapable, the whole department got a makeover. That’s not weak, that’s powerful.

Watch out for the incorrect falsehoods that you let hang out in your head. They are making stressful situations a lot harder!

The next time it feels weak to be honest or to say no, ask yourself “Does the way I currently think serve me well?”

15. Set Clear Boundaries

Boundaries are important to us all. It feels great when we get on holiday and we can do what we like when we like, however left like that for more than a few weeks and things can disintegrate and fall apart.

We need boundaries. And at stressful times, boundaries can really help. They enable you to feel safe to be honest and work and think in a way that helps you and they set out what you will tolerate and deal with and what you wont.

Remember creating boundaries is a lot like saying no and most of the negative thoughts you are having around boundaries are imaginary too. If you aren’t going to answer work email at 10pm on a Saturday night, don’t.

Establish your boundaries, communicate them and stick by them.

16. Get Passionate About Something

In stressful times, we can find ourselves living in negative, soul destroying emotions and moods. To the point that we can attempt to numb ourselves from them.

The next time the emotions start to impact on you, think about all of the things that you are passionate about.

No one need know what you are thinking about, so if you find yourself thinking about your dog before your partner, that’s fine.

Get yourself a big old list that makes you smile. Even if the smile doesn’t feel real, your brain is still benefiting. When we get really bogged down in stressful times, it can be hard to believe that we will ever feel good again.

We can’t change everything instantly but interestingly (and I find miraculously), we can change our mindset in the click of a finger. Getting passionate could help you do that.

17. Ask for What You Truly Want

If you need time, a hug, a conversation, a massage, a run, a nap, a walk, a helping hand, ask for it.

Of all the fears in my book Fight the Fear, so many come back to the fear of what other people will think of us and I’ve heard so many people tell me that they’ve learnt to ask for what they want.

Stop fearing asking for what you need. Learn to accept that asking for what you want not only helps you navigate through stressful times, it also helps you to achieve more in life too.

18. Ditch the Guilt

Guilt just loves tough times. It will be able to give you a voice in your head that tells you:

  • This is all your fault.
  • You never get it right.
  • You’ve always failed at this.
  • You should have taken better care of that.
  • You weren’t good enough to get that job.
  • If someone had to go, it had to be you.
  • No one sticks around you for long.
  • This is you, what were you expecting?

That voice is worse than Cruella Deville, Voldemort and Hannibel Lector combined. It’s intent on destroying your determination and happiness.

Have you noticed how some people go through hell and keep going and others suffer far less and give up? The reason they keep going is not some shot of good fortune, it comes down to the what they let happen in their head. So chuck the guilt.

19. Never Hate Stress

It’s no good hating stressful times, it won’t make them magically disappear.

Stress is an essential component to your body. Without some stress between bones, muscles, skin, etc you would be a floppy mess on the floor.

Stress can help us grow and learn so much about ourselves. What could you discover about you from the stress you face right now?

20. Start Moving

When life feels too tough, we can be tempted to hide our heads under the duvet and say “give me a call in 2050, I will come out when its all over”

Trust me, I include myself in that one.

In my personal life, I’ve seen a lot of awful things this year. Don’t try and be super human, as I read in The Last Highlander, when you face the most horrific of times, just concentrate on getting one foot in front of the other.

Go the Extra Mile

In stressful times we need people around us that will go the extra mile, and I’m one of those.

Watch out for the sappers of positivity and remember the basics – sleep, eat, breathe– get those in the right measures especially when you are struggling, you see as Nan so wisely knew we can’t hide from tough times, we can’t make them magically disappear, however like a storm cloud it will eventually go away.

And behind it is left that fresh new smell that says, “Mmm anything is possible”

And do you know what?

It is…

More Coping Skills to Learn

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Drucker Institute: About Peter Drucker
[2] Mandie Holgate: Bench Mark Graph
[3] Tasha Eurich: Insight
[4] Harvard Business Review: What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)
  • May 21, 2019

Latest article for Life Hack – How to Stop Racing Thoughts When Your Mind Won’t Let Up

Okay I doubt a single coaching client comes to me and says “Mandie can you stop the racing thoughts, its like there’s a crowd in here!” However whether it’s coaching someone to over come a life long fear, helping them deal with an challenging team member, build their confidence, process adversity and keep going or achieve a lifetime ambition, most sessions start with the client speaking non stop for at least 10 minutes (usally 20 minutes at least!) as they empty out in front of me their mind and every thought they are attempting to process and deal with. Here for Life hack I look at some of the top ideas that I use to help people when their minds seem to race ahead with a million thoughts, never giving you time to process anything or have some brain space.

We also look at;

  1. Does Everyone Have Racing Thoughts?
  2. How to Stop Racing Thoughts In Your Mind
  3. Final Thoughts

To read the full story head over to Lifehack. And if you would love for me to write something personal for you, just let me know either in an email or through my social media.

I hope you are having a great week and if I can help, I love that phone ringing, no seriously feel free to ring me.

 

  • November 28, 2018

I can’t do it!

There are times in our lives when we feel like we can’t do it. Panic sets in. Fears escalates. Confidence takes a nose dive and we question our actions, our thoughts and even ourselves.

When you feel that level of overwhelm it can be hard to know how to go on. “I’m not good enough” can attack us and before you know it you have that fight or flight reaction that leaves you with even more negative thoughts, actions and results.

So how can you escape this?

Here are some tips to help;

  1. When have you been awesome? And don’t tell me you haven’t because I won’t believe you! There are times in your life when you have achieved greatly. Think about those times. What made you excel? It doesn’t have to be the first man on the moon level of success here, this is personalised stories of success. Something you feared, but did and did well. Now think about it in detail. What had you been thinking? How did you feel? You probably experienced fear then but what made you keep going? Now how can you replicate those feelings and actions? Start small and be consistent.
  2. Who reminds you, you are awesome? The next stage of step 1 is to remember the times you were awesome and think who helped you stay that way? Who reminded you that you can do this? That you’ve got this in the bag? How are you going to ensure those people factor in your life to help you? Do you need to put it in the diary to ensure you see those people regularly?
  3. Who saps your life force? Just as you need to ensure you stick around the people that empower, motivate and inspire you to keep going. You also have to ask who saps your positivity. This is not just people face to face. Online too. Be mindful of the TV and outside influences you choose to take on board too. Watching the news to keep informed on what is going on in the world, is different to be impacted on and feeling a sense of worthlessness and unable to change the future. If it negatively impacts on you don’t watch it. Don’t allow that negativity into your mind space!
  4. Be nice to yourself. So many people that I work with that are suffering from anxiety and that sense of overwhelm speak to themselves in a negative way. As I always say “if you wouldn’t say it to me, your Mum or your best mate, then you don’t say it to yourself.” At the start just being aware of this will be enough. And don’t start berating yourself because you keep being unkind to yourself! Take small steps; Step 1; Be aware of the self talk. Step 2; Stop the self talk and then step 3 is to change the self talk to be positive. But only one step at a time. Be nice!
  5. Reinforce the good –  Don’t expect to do this on your own. You have had a way of thinking that hasn’t served you for years. It can change over night but only if you believe it can. (Think Yoda lifting that X- Wing in Star Wars. Sorry for the Star Wars reference but its true, what we believe we achieve.) But don’t berate yourself because you just can’t see it yet. It feels like you are stuck in this place with  no escape. Trust these steps and use more that work for you. At your own pace. Use music, aromatherapy oils, and hobbies to reinforce the good, the positive and the “Can do” attitude. I use a lot of aromatherapy oils to help change my mood. I recommend Oils by Jo. Learn more here. 
  6. Some fear is good. As hard as this one is to get your head around. Sometimes its good to feel a little fear. It reminds you that this matters. The difference is that we want you to appreciate what level of fear is good for you and what level of fear is impacting on your life in a negative way. Notice how the fear feels? Notice your feelings and emotions.
  7. Lean – We are not isolated creatures. We thrive in communities. So choose yours wisely as we’ve said above.And know when to lean. Tell people you are scared. It’s not a sign of weakness, it takes true courage and strength to say”I can’t do this” or “This feels too hard, I want to give up!” Accept that you are awesome for being that honest and learn on the right people. Because people do care. And the ones that don’t aren’t worth giving your head brain space!

And if I can help, just say. If coaching is not a viable option right now. Just message me with what is impacting on you and I will write a tailor made blog article just for you. People really do care, and I’m one of them. xxx

  • February 7, 2017