In last week’s post I introduced the innate STRESS process that creates our unique experience of stress. This week we’re going to take a look at the first stage in the process – “Stimuli”, and the two main ways we can influence the stimuli we receive, to prevent the stress process from starting.
The stress process is a chain reaction that starts with a stimulus and ends in the symptoms we commonly refer to as ‘stress’.
We are constantly being bombarded with stimuli from the external environment in the form of sensory information. We also generate a constant flow of internal stimuli in the form of thoughts and sensations. It’s estimated we have up to 65.000 thoughts a day plus many thousand sensations, such as aches and pains, body temperature fluctuations, nausea.
Our senses are the vehicle that delivers information from the external environment to our brain. For instance, whilst sat in front of our PC, our senses could be detecting the sight of the words on the screen, the feel of our fingers on the keyboard, the sound of our computer whirring away, the temperature of the room, the taste of the coffee we’ve just sipped.
It’s been estimated that approximately 2 billion pieces of data enter our brain, through our senses, every second. That’s a huge amount of information and if our brain tried to process all of it, we'd quite simply suffer from information overload and wouldn't be able to function.
So in order to avoid information overload, this deluge of information is filtered through a network of cells in our brain, resulting in only a very minute proportion of it finally getting through to our consciousness. There are several factors that help the brain to decide what information to filter out and I’ll discuss these in the upcoming post about the Reality stage of the process.
The filtering process is unique to each of us, because we all have a unique ‘mental blueprint’ drawn from our essential needs, values, beliefs, thinking biases, memories and experiences. This is the reason why two people working in the same room may have different experiences of the environment, and consequently different memories of the experience.
What can we do at this first stage in the stress process, to stop the chain reaction that results in stress?
First of all we need to identify what stimuli in the external environment start our stress process
Over a couple of weeks, note down the details of situations, times, places and people, that cause you to feel anxious and experience stress.
For instance, in my last job, the sound of my boss's door sliding open was enough to start my stress process. Eek!
Once you know what stimuli (the specific situations, places, people) start your stress process, it may be possible to make changes in your lifestyle to either avoid and/or alter those particular stimuli.
Avoid the particular stimulus
The key to successfully avoiding a particular stimulus is to plan ahead. Here are some examples of stimuli and how you might avoid them:
- Donald Trump - if you live in America you could perhaps choose to move to Canada.
- The traffic jam you encounter most evenings driving home from work, perhaps you can take a different route or leave work earlier or later.
- The queue at your work cafeteria. Perhaps, pack your lunch and eat it in the park or in a break room.
- Bad news. Perhaps you can switch off the news on the TV and radio, or leave the room when they are on. And perhaps you could stop buying the newspaper.
- Crowds. Perhaps you can change your daily routine to avoid having to encounter crowds.
- A co-worker. Perhaps you can put physical distance between the two of you. For instance, sit further away at meetings or walk around his or her cubicle, even if it requires some extra steps.
- A particular taste. Perhaps you can stop eating or drinking that food.
- Caffeine. Perhaps you cut down on your coffee intake or switch to herbal teas.
Alter the stimulus
It may not be practical or possible to avoid some or any of the stimuli you’ve identified. However, it may be possible to alter a stimuli in terms of its: intensity, volume, proximity, texture, taste, smell, speed or movement. For instance if the stimulus is:
- Your colleague's nonstop chatter, politely ask them to stop talking. Or perhaps you could wear headphones to give the impression you’re listening to music.
- The brightness of the sun. Perhaps wearing sunglasses will reduce the intensity of the light.
- Noise - especially noise over 30 decibels. Perhaps you can turn the volume down. Perhaps you can reduce the noise level by wearing ear protection.
- A particular smell. Perhaps you can open a window or use an air freshener to reduce or alter the smell.
- Your body temperature. Perhaps you can put on, or remove, some items of clothing.
- A mile long ‘To Do’ list. Perhaps you can reduce it to the three most important things you have to do today.
Our ability to avoid or adapt specific stimuli that we know are the triggers for our stress process can provide us with an effective way of stopping the stress process in its tracks. However, the reality is that because of the volume of information we receive each and every second, it’s impossible for us to avoid, or adapt, all of the external stimuli we receive.
The good news is that we can adapt ourselves, so that we can gain greater control over whether or not a particular stimulus arouses fear or anxiety, and we’ll be looking at how we do this, in subsequent blog posts.
To find out more about how you can overcome anxiety and reduce stress, simply invest in a no obligation complimentary 30 minute consultation. It could prove to be the most valuable and life changing 30 minutes of your life.
P.S. Please do ask me any questions you may have about anxiety and stress - I am always delighted to answer them.
Tony Yuile is hired by people seeking help to perform at their best in one or more areas of their lives. He's a personal performance coach & hypnosis professional based in Wellington NZ, where he specialises in helping people perform under pressure, reduce anxiety and manage stress. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of co-active coaching, hypnosis, positive psychology and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
Contact Tony today to discuss how he can help you, or if you think Tony could help someone you know, you might like to encourage them to get in touch with him.
This article contains the personal views and opinions of the author, which may change over time. It is intended to be for information only and does not constitute medical advice. For medical and health advice, always consult a qualified medical professional.