How to make stress a catalyst for change

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Change can be scary, I know, but when you’re looking forward in your life and thinking, “This can’t go on,” or “I don’t want to live like this anymore,” change can magically become the more attractive option, even if that means stepping into unknown territory. I’ve been at that fork in the road many times myself, and what drew me toward coaching as a profession was the toolkit for navigating those moments with more grace and power.

I sometimes think of the coach’s work as “change midwifery,” meeting others at the proverbial crossroads with a backpack of strategies to make the journey easier. As we head into the sometimes stressful holiday season, I’d like to offer a few tips on how to see those stressful feelings differently, and in so doing, begin the process of change.

This week's post offers some practical tips to turn around anxiety, anger, and fear and see them through a new lens, as messengers of important information. Too often we blame the messenger and squash stressful feelings, but if we can learn to tolerate them long enough to listen, we can find the hidden gems that empower big positive life changes. Here they are:

1. Anxiety & Boundaries

Anxiety comes in many flavors, and sometimes, it will point you toward the need for a personal boundary of some kind. If you’re worried about seeing Uncle Bob to the point where you’re losing sleep over it, well, maybe it’s time to use your voice to gently let him know that his pejorative jokes about women are not ok for you. If you are dreading an office party you agreed to host, maybe it’s time to let your boss know exactly what you can and cannot do this week. Feeling overwhelmed with holiday preparations? How would it feel to set aside 30 minutes a day just for you?

If you’re experiencing anxiety around a certain person, place, or event, try asking yourself what would need to happen for you to feel ease and calm about that same situation. Often the boundary line has been crossed so often we forget where it is. Or maybe we’ve never had that boundary in place at all. New lines around our well-being can always be drawn, and I find it’s helpful to remember that healthy boundaries are what help us be more generous to others, not less. If we don’t feel good, we can’t give meaningfully to others. Put your own oxygen mask on first.

Above all, ask, “What do I need?”

 

2. Anger & Desire

When someone or something makes you angry, that anger can sometimes act as a bright neon sign for what you don’t want in your life. It can help you understand what’s most important to you. Very often, the anger is not the fault of the external person or thing in question, but rather an indication that you yourself have not been true to you own desire, or have not expressed that desire strongly enough. Maybe your spouse attempts to insist on something you don’t agree with, or a colleague ignores or diminishes the value of your work. Either way, anger has a tendency to cast other people or situations in the role of the villain, while you yourself play the role of the innocent victim.

Anger is sometimes like a magic mirror – it tells us really clearly what’s wrong for us so that we can get even more clear about what’s right for us. It can help us identify what we DO want, believe in, or want to make important in our lives.

If you often feel angry, ask yourself, what is it that I really want right now? What is most important to me? By stepping out of the victim role, you may need to ask for what you want, or seek it out on your own. You may find yourself navigating an uncomfortable conversation. These options can feel uncomfortable, but the discomfort itself is often a sign of learning, and of change.

Above all, ask, “What do I want?”

3. Fear & Decisions

We often name fear as an obstacle at the cusp of big decisions, and the most helpful perspective shift I’ve encountered in this area is to accept that the fear is actually okay, even normal. It makes sense to feel some version of fear (nervous, apprehensive, skeptical, etc.) on the cusp of change. If we didn’t, we might take higher risks and make less informed decisions. In fact, those who feel less fear often do just that. What if rather than tamping down our fear or reproaching ourselves for having it, we chose to acknowledge it instead?

I realize this is not the most fun choice. Fear can be extremely unpleasant. But once we understand that it’s okay to feel it, we can often glean valuable information from its presence, and it will then consume us far less. One great service that fear often offers is to slow us down, so that when we do make a big decision, we do so with a deeper understanding, having considered a wider range of options, having consulted more experts, and having written a Plan B. These are all important preparations for making the major life decisions that commonly trigger a fear response, such as changing jobs, getting married, or buying a house.

If you’re feeling fear around an upcoming decision or possible turn in your life, make some time to ask yourself, is there anything else I need to consider here? Is there any research I can do to give me a clear understanding of my options? Do I need to save money for another couple of months? Are there topics I’d like to discuss openly with my partner?

Above all, ask, “What do I know?”

 

If you or someone close to you is struggling with anxiety, anger, or fear, or is navigating a difficult decision or situation, please reach out to schedule a complimentary coach consultation. On this relaxed, confidential phone call, I’ll ask a few questions about your personal goals, and suggest a few techniques to try immediately. If I think I can help, I’ll also give you a recommendation on the frequency and duration of a coaching program.