To Beat Stress Master Your Triggers

Written by on April 11, 2016 in Emotional Mastery with 38 Comments

Change and StressLife can be quite a roller coaster ride at times. The economy takes a dive, that big client finally signs the contract, we’re blindsided by change, important relationships begin and end, jobs are won and lost, and sometimes people let us down.

While it is true that life is full of many different types of demanding events, stress is not the problem, it is our response that makes the difference to the outcome, and that choice is ours alone.

We can respond with blame and anger, stuff our emotions, or assume the role of victim. Or we can accept responsibility for the power we have to create the quality of our own life experience by doing the work to make the most of our opportunities while identifying and mastering the triggers that spark our own limiting behaviors and unwelcomed stress.

Understanding Stress Triggers

When referring to stress our first thoughts usually go to the familiar issues of money, relationships and time constraints. But these are extremely broad areas and the reality is we all experience different responses to pressure. A situation that sets off (triggers) a desire to run for the hills for one person might be seen as a minor inconvenience or even an exciting adventure to another.

So to develop an effective stress management plan, you need to first identify and then learn to master your own particular stress triggers. To illustrate, we’re going to look at a common source of stress, change.

Change itself isn’t the problem — it’s the way we respond to change – the need for control, fearing uncertainty, not wanting things to be different.

Stress and Resistance to Change

If you ask someone the most common reason for resisting change chances are they’ll say “fear.” But again, fear is a broad concept and to get to the heart of the problem you have to dig deeper and ask … fear of what? I can hear you now, “Duh, fear of change!” but hang on because we’re not quite there yet.

Fear is a powerful emotion that can often mask the critical issues. When it comes to change the real culprit is our belief about uncertainty which threatens our need for control and so we respond by digging our heels in and resisting whatever is threatening to disturb our zone of comfort.

We All Need a Sense of Control

When facing change we may imagine all sorts of possibilities, but we can’t know the outcome with any certainty, and “positive thinking” will only carry us so far, so to offset the unknown we look for ways to anchor ourselves with a sense of control, but this can quickly become a slippery slope because to retain a sense of control we often resort to the terrible twosome – avoidance and procrastination – in an effort to stay in familiar territory as long as possible.

The problem is this form of control is an illusion that can lead to limiting emotions such as frustration, blaming, disappointment, overwhelm, guilt and anger, all of which brings up thoughts of an uncertain future leading to indecision, creating a vicious, stressful cycle. It’s worth noting that this holds true as much for positive change as negative. For example, the bride or groom suffering last minute doubts about walking down the aisle, or the newly promoted manager suddenly struck with overwhelming self-doubt and fear of failure.

Why do we resist the mystery that uncertainty and change brings? When we get too rigid and inflexible, rigor mortis of the soul sets in. For proof of this, we need to look no further than to those who choose to stay in a relationship or job long after the soul, or life force that originally brought it passion and joy has vacated the premises. ~Dennis Merritt Jones

Making Peace with Uncertainty

The bad news is control is an illusion. The good news is we don’t need actual control, just a sense of control, and because we do have control over our efforts and attitudes, that is something we can develop. And when it comes to change the first step to cultivating a sense of control is to make peace with uncertainty.

Here’s an easy exercise to give you a starting point. Begin by making a list of the areas where you feel the need for certainty. Following are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • You need reassurance from others every time you have to make a decision.
  • You’re obsessive about your task list to make sure you don’t miss any details.
  • You’re in an unrewarding job or unhappy relationship because you fear you may never find anything better.
  • You refuse to delegate because you believe no one else can do the work as well as you.
  • You’re constantly checking up on other people to make sure they do what they’re supposed to, or promised to do.

We all occasionally do these things, but it’s when it becomes the “norm” that you need to take a closer look at the behavior. You may add more to your list later on as you become more aware of your feelings, wants, and needs, but for now, the next step is to rank the items on your list according to the level of anxiety they create.

Then pick one – just one – small area where you feel the need for assurance and start working on building your tolerance for uncertainty.

Some quit due to slow progress, never grasping the fact that slow progress … is still progress!

Build momentum! Look for opportunities to tolerate uncertainty in daily life. Try new things, look for routines that have become ruts and make some changes, if someone asks you to bring a dish to a party, try making something without asking for anyone’s advice. These are very small steps, but the point is to be intentional and consistent in your efforts.

As you gradually become more comfortable with uncertainty, then your fear and need for control will begin to diminish and change will get easier and become a part of your life. Think of it like building a muscle; you need to do your exercises every day if you want that muscle to get strong!

Final thoughts …

The one thing we always have control over, no matter what is going on around us is our attitudes and beliefs. You are always capable, maybe not always willing, but certainly capable, of controlling your thoughts, attitudes, and emotions. And your belief in your ability to effectively manage the circumstances of your life directly affects your response to stress.

Your turn. How confident are you in your ability to manage stress and uncertainty in your own life?

P.S. As we continue our focus on stress during National Stress Awareness month in the next post we’ll look at relationships – the good, the bad and the … well, you know.

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.

Tags: , , , , , ,


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Pinterest Connect on Google Plus Connect on LinkedIn Connect on YouTube

38 Reader Comments

Trackback URL Comments RSS Feed

  1. William says:

    Marquita, This was a great post. I totally agree that change is stressful. As one other commenter mentioned, my first thought while reading this was the serenity prayer.

    I think addicts and alcoholics in recovery could use this article as a great resource for dealing with the unknown and change of sobriety. Often times, addicts in early recovery are afraid of the unknown. The more you jump into something and experience, the less fear you will have! I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.
    William recently posted…5 Ways You Can Walk Away From AlcoholismMy Profile

  2. Pam says:

    Your article makes so much sense. If we do a little digging to find out what bothers us, that work will pay off for us so much in the long run.

  3. Paula

    Nicely articulated. 2 things come to my mind.

    1. The serenity prayer

    2. We cannot change the wind, but we can adjust our sails.

  4. Marquita — when I started my first business over 20 years ago, a transition counselor asked me a simple question: “Can you live with ambiguity?” I didn’t realize at the time how absolutely critical that question was. In business, you need to learn to live with uncertainty as you never know when business may dry up, no matter what you do. It sometimes helps to ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” When you identify your fears, you can help control them.

  5. Your detailed post clearly highlighted how one’s attitude has a much greater impact on how we allow the things we cannot change or stop to affect us, Marquita.

    We cannot stop or change the things around us so it’s important to change or adapt to those things so that we flow with rather than struggle against them, and avoid the resulting limiting beliefs. It really can be an exercise in futility as your post brings out. Nicely written.

  6. Being someone who is always in a hurry to see results, this line really was a great reminder, “Some quit due to slow progress, never grasping the fact that slow progress … is still progress!” Although I don’t quit, I find that my impatience creates its own stress because I am not seeing concrete progress. I do trust that the pieces are moving into place and when I stop and remind myself that Divine timing is not always my timing, it helps me to relax and continue trusting. We are subject to 24/7 stress in our lives and you have offered a very doable way to recognize the things that trigger us and then how to practice changes that will assist us to “make peace with uncertainty”. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Marquita.
    Beverley Golden recently posted…On Being a Multifacetist©My Profile

  7. Millen

    Great thought-provoking article, Marquita! What is interesting to me is that learning to “go with a flow”, letting go of the need for control and certainty is a constant practice that doesn’t eliminate the discomfort or pain of “adjustment-to-change” but hopefully makes it less intense over time. It’s almost like experiencing the familiar emotion but at a different depth, knowing that “it shall pass too”. I am obviously talking about my own experience…. Focusing on bigger picture (changing perception) and gratitude for “what is”, meditation, faith and time usually help me get grounded.
    Millen recently posted…How I Offered My First Financial Assistance and What I’ve LearnedMy Profile

  8. Teresa Salhi

    Really great explanations on triggers of stress, the relationship to fear and fear of change etc. I enjoyed reading and learning, thank you.
    Teresa Salhi recently posted…Fearless Women Do 7 Things DifferentlyMy Profile

  9. Ramona McKean

    Thanks for another thoughtful post, Marquita. I love the Dennis Merritt Jones’ quote. I’ve experienced “rigor mortis of the soul” more than once by choosing to stay with someone/something for dangerously too long. (Dangerous to my soul.)
    I have a practice, so to speak, that helps me be accepting of changes over which I have no “control.” These things are what some call “life’s blows.” I adopt the mental stance that on some level I have “agreed” to the change and I did so for an understandable reason. No blame of self or other. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it definitely helps. The sense of “accountability” is a freeing factor, I find. (I don’t talk about this much, if at all. It’s just one way I help myself stay sane.) I also pray and have conversations with God, Higher/Wiser self, Universe (whatever one wants to call “it”). This has helped me survive some very hard blows.
    Ramona McKean recently posted…Deja-Vus are Glitches in TimeMy Profile

    • Sounds like a great ritual Ramona, and I am a huge believer in the power of taking responsibility for our lives. Control is an issue for everyone and how we handle those times when we’re reaching out and there’s nothing there to grab on to has a way of defining us in the long run. Thanks so much for your insightful comment.

  10. Another great post, Marty. There is a Canadian artist who had a very popular song called “Life is a Highway.” I can really relate to that analogy. sometimes, the road of life is smooth and clear sailing without any stress or obstacles to slow us down. Sometimes, it is full of potholes and life-threatening hairpin curves that test our ability to survive. I think when you adopt that philosophy it better prepares you to accept whatever comes and try to learn from it so that you can better manage the challenges put before you.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…celebrating Decadence Chocolates of WinnipegMy Profile

    • I’m not familiar with the song Doreen, but the name is a great analogy. Another one I often use is a roller coaster ride, because there’s something hopeful about knowing that when you’re at the bottom, sooner or later the ride will swing back up again. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation!

  11. Fabulous post that makes many good points. Stress can lead to all kinds of health issues, and it’s important to deal with it in a positive way. I’ve found that mindful meditation can be very helpful – only takes a few minutes in your day, but goes a long way to easing the stress!

    • Meditation is high on the list of effective ways to manage stress so good for you, Krystyna. I keep telling myself I’m going to give it a try but so far haven’t gotten around to it, but you’ve definitely inspired me. Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  12. Mark

    Man oh man can I relate to this subject M! I’m the one that experiences major stress, each time Microsoft updates it’s OS’s!LOL!

    Because suddenly, I can’t find things as readily!LOL!

    You talk about stressful! The world just keeps constantly changing! Practically every few months, there’s some new social media platform, supposedly no sane marketer can do without!LOL!

    And on and one it goes M! So I’m all for gradually moving along! Thank you very much!LOL!
    Mark recently posted…How Some Extremely Savvy Entrepreneurs Use Free Stuff To Create Huge Long Term Profits!My Profile

    • Gosh Mark, got a little stress going on in your life right now? Seriously, I do hear you and I understand how frustrating the control issue is. If we could only get the rest of the world to cooperate! Thanks so much, as always appreciate your thoughtful insights.

  13. More provoking thoughts rambling through my head, Marquita. I used to get stressed about work when I was in corporate. Major stress and so glad to be gone from that.

    Then my Mom got lung cancer and Dad got ALS, both passing within eight months of each other. That’s when I really understood what stress can be.

    These days I’m not going to say I don’t have stress, but the stronger my faith in God gets, the less the stress over daily life things tends to bother me.
    These days, I’m more about the bigger picture which is both frightening (yes, I’m talking about eternity here) and very freeing.

    Now, if I could stay focused on that attitude instead of the writing contests I’m not winning… 🙂
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Charleston, South Carolina – a Wonderful, Walkable CityMy Profile

    • Sounds like you’ve definitely had some serious experience in the stress department Rose Mary, but it also seems you’ve found a very strong internal source for being able to manage your triggers … well, with the exception of the writing contests. I’ll think positive thoughts for you in that regard. 🙂

  14. William Rusho

    I have to admit that this is one of the few things I do not worry about. I have been able to control any stress. It may be my faith, or perhaps my experience in the martial arts and meditation. I do know one thing, you must accept the fact that you cannot control everything. I think of hardships and change in the same way I do weather. I may do everything I can, but if it occurs, there was no changing it, just like I cannot change the weather. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Congratulations William! The things you mention are all valuable resources when it comes to combating stress. It really does all come down to our attitude. Thanks for taking the time to share and contribute. 🙂

  15. Erica says:

    This is a great exercise that I think anyone can benefit from. Small changes are so much easier to envision than the big ones. So by taking things slowly and becoming more tolerant of uncertainty, it seems like you really can train yourself to live with that uncertainty. I’ll give this exercise a try today!
    Erica recently posted…The Real Way to Get Swimsuit Ready For SummerMy Profile

  16. Donna Merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    I was stressed since I was a child. When I was 7 years old I had ulcers. I spent the next 20 years being stressed. I developed OCD because I wanted things under control (didn’t know that then)

    But I can honestly say, I wouldn’t have gone through this alone. It took professional help to learn how to deal with stress. Now I can understand my “triggers” and deal with them for the most part, but it is a learned behavior for me.

    You always bring up such wonderful topics!

    Donna Merrill recently posted…7 Things Top Bloggers Never Stop DoingMy Profile

  17. Tatia

    Thanks for sharing this post Marquita. I 100% agree that how we tackle obstacles/stress is largely tied to attitude. As far as triggers, for me it isn’t so much the fear of uncertainty, but the fear of not taking in the moment and being content. I get so wound up in the day to day routine that sometimes I need to remind myself to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that it’s okay to want more as long as I appreciate what’s already in front of me.

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Tatia, and I certainly agree with you about the importance of appreciating what we have in life. At the same time, I’d like you to consider that your “fear of not taking in the moment and being content” is very much about your desire to control the quality of your life and the uncertainty about whether or not you’ll be able to achieve your goals if you don’t keep pushing. Just something to think about. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation!

  18. Abdullah

    Wonderful post! Stress has always been hard for me. Fortunately it has really helped me since getting married. My wife understands how I work and the emotional needs I have, so she is a strong support for me.

    I agree with your point that we truly don’t have control. Admitting that to myself has been a big part of overcoming stress in my life.

    I also agree that we always have control over your thoughts. That’s about the only thing we have control over: the way we are feeling and what we are choosing to focus on. It is an incredible amount of control though: by that I mean that we can make massive changes in our life just by what thoughts we allow ourselves to dwell on.
    Abdullah recently posted…How Surrendering to God Can Make the Law of Attraction Work for YouMy Profile

    • Welcome Abdullah! I’m so pleased you found value in the article, and you can be assured that these are issues most people struggle with at one point or another, especially when it comes to the matter of control. But I do believe we have a lot more power than we give ourselves credit for. If you study the stories of people who have overcome tremendous odds and gone on to live rich and full lives, it’s clear to see how much their attitudes and beliefs had to do with their accomplishments. Every one of them found themselves at a crossroad where they could have taken a different path and that alone says volumes about the power we each have to direct the course of our lives. Thanks so much for stopping by and contributing to the conversation! 🙂

  19. Stella Chiu

    Hi, Marquita

    You are right on the spot. People feel stress when their comfort zones are changed or disturbed. In that moment, people will be frozen by the fear of the uncertain about future because now we are not in our driver seats.

    Agree with you, we need to make peace with uncertain because it is part of growing process in life. I believe also there is power inside each of us to be overcome the challenges we are facing. We can also believe when one door closed, another door will be open for us.

    Excellence post. Will pass along.
    Stella Chiu
    Stella Chiu recently posted…My Journey to Increase the Numbers of Facebook LikesMy Profile

  20. Dave

    I really like the concept you present, Marty, that we don’t need control, only a sense of control. That’s brilliant, and it’s almost like I could feel the weight lifted off my shoulders when you embrace that concept.

    That fact, coupled with the fact that what we always do have complete control over is our attitudes and beliefs. And, therein lies the real power to cope with change, positive or negative, in as healthy a way as possible!

    I still have problems dealing with stress and change – I think we all do, especially when it seems to snowball beyond critical mass. But, knowing that we have the power to respond to it in whatever we choose, as difficult as that might be, is extremely empowering 🙂

    Thanks for another great article!
    Dave recently posted…Midnight Whisper – Part IIMy Profile

    • So glad you enjoyed the article, Dave. So much of the dialogue in this series has to do with taking responsibility for our own lives and that is a tough concept for some people to accept. Ha! Just wait until next week when we get into relationships! 🙂

  21. Sabrina Quairoli

    Great post, Marquita. Prior to my father illness, I would deal with stress by clenching my stomach. Then, I had stomach issues and had to go into surgery to repair it. When I recovered I changed my behavior when under stress. Instead I do 3 or 4 deep breathing techniques to calm myself down. I haven’t had stomach issues since. Thanks for sharing.

    • There’s no question that our bodies will fire off warning signals when we need to make some changes. Sounds like you found just the right solution! Thanks for taking the time to share. 🙂

  22. Phoenicia

    You certainly do your homework!

    I get stressed and am working on this by identifying the triggers. I like to be in control (who doesn’t) and become anxious when I have little control.

    I have no problem with change once I know it will add benefit to my life. I adapt in new environments rather easily. Unfortunately, we are not always in the driving seat.
    Phoenicia recently posted…Where does your passion lay?My Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: