Stress! It’s a fact of life particularly for those of you who are leading growing organizations. The lines between work and our personal lives have blurred; we live in basically a 24/7 world. It’s no wonder we have headaches, stomach issues, insomnia. Stress is the number one cause of illness in the U.S. However, you can change that. I spoke to Dr. Frank Wood, a clinical psychologist who developed the innovative “Thriving With Stress “ training. His program has been called life-transforming, and he shared some insight and tips with me.
THE Small Business Expert: My audience consists of small business owners and business leaders. They tell me that they are stressed out and burned out because of the demands of building their businesses. What practical advice would you have for them?
Frank Wood: I would suggest that stress is not the issue, but it’s the response that we have to those demands, those pressures, the pressures that we face. The response is really the issue, and if we can better understand how to respond, Susan, more productively, we gain a capacity to thrive or perform to our best in those moments.
THE Small Business Expert: So in other words, you’re suggesting that we’re letting the stress control us instead of us controlling the stress.
Frank Wood: In a way we’re letting our circumstances define who we are. So we might almost perform like a firefighter where we’re always putting out fires. However, if you’ve ever been to a fire station, there’s a lot of times when those firefighters are actually at the station; they’re not constantly putting out fires. Our ability to manage ourselves in the midst of the pressures that come our way, is how we perform to our best.
THE Small Business Expert: Can you explain exactly how stress works in our brains?
Frank Wood: There’s a professor of psychology at Indiana University, and what he suggests is that our brain is always paying attention to our experience. When our brain thinks that our experience is not giving us what we want, that’s actually when we experience a stress response. And so what we want to have happen is really important.
I believe, Susan, there’s four ways that we typically respond when demands are overwhelming: we either hide from the issue, we avoid the issue, we fight over the territory about the issue, or we deal more productively. When we can realize those occasions when we do the fight or the flight, we’re avoiding or we’re fighting or we’re freezing up, it’s in those moments where we’re less productive. Then any interaction or any circumstance if we can settle ourselves, we gain a capacity in that moment to perform more to our potential.
THE Small Business Expert: As I mentioned in my intro, stress is a fact of life so would you agree a little stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing?
Frank Wood: Well, actually stress brings passion. Any one of your listeners who’s ever ridden on a roller coaster, as the roller coaster tick, tick, ticks up that first hill there’s a rush of adrenaline that pumps through our body and that stress is actually a good thing. It’s when that stress response experience persists or lasts too long, this is when it becomes damaging. People who are under chronic stress tend to look tired. That tired is a function of themselves not getting a break from that experience.
THE Small Business Expert The name of your program is “Thriving With Stress”, can you give us the Reader’s Digest version of how it works?
Frank Wood: Years ago I used to do therapy with older adults and adults with developmental disabilities. What I realized, Susan, is every one of the patients that I had had a moment when they were okay, but when they got a headwind, that kind of a challenge that was too much. That’s when they, I’ll call it, that’s when they popped out their fruit. So we all start out at a place where we’re okay, and then we end up at a place where we’re either not okay, depressed, anxious, worried or stressed out
What the “Thriving With Stress” approach, teaches is that when we’re on a path from our okay to our not okay there are 10 things you can recognize. So in a sense you can get off the road to not okay by learning simply to pay attention to the internal experience of what happens inside all of us some of the time when our demands or the pressures or the stressful stuff in life is overwhelming us.
THE Small Business Expert: How does stress impact the communication channel?
Frank Wood: Well, it’s interesting. When we experience stress, we engage in something called self-referential thinking, we’re thinking about our thinking. Any time you’ve been in an argument, after the person says something that you might not quite agree with, you’re already formulating your response to either how right you are or how wrong they were in whatever they said. Frank Wood: When you are involved in self-referential thinking, you’re thinking about your thinking, guess what you’re not paying attention to – the other person.
THE Small Business Expert: That is excellent advice. I appreciate your time and I applaud you’re excellent work.
If you’d like to learn more about the “Thrive With Success” program visit Dr. Wood’s website. You can also following him on Facebook (facebook.com/thrivingwithstress) and Twitter: @Thrivewithstress.
You can also listen to my One Percent Edge Podcast to hear more of my conversation with Dr. Wood