Defusing Stressful Emotions
Mark Twain said, "I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
It’s unsustainable to experience many days feeling exhausted, uninspired and anxious. I believe the biggest contributing factor is superficial stress. Stress that is self-made and becomes unbearable because we make it so.
Let’s say you need to take your car for a service but you are running late because there is a queue. Your anxiety starts shooting up because you are running late for work. The attendant slowly checks the car for scratches and your patience is thinning. You become snappy and have to wait for a way back to the office. After getting stuck in five minutes traffic you are fuming and want to loose your shit. Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t.
The thing is, you could have avoided the stress and anxiety in many ways. Contact your boss or manager to let them know the situation. You can make alternate arrangements for time off work. That one event can set the tone of the rest of your day.
I have gathered some techniques which I try incorporate in my personal and work life to defuse and better handle stressful emotions.
Question the unknown
When dealing with unknown situations I ask myself three simple questions:
What do I think is the worst possible realistic outcome of the situation? How will I feel about it? What will I do about it? Present in the moment
I practice mindfulness by focusing on the present so that my intentions are deliberate and I am not thinly spread. I am more focused, productive and have more time.
Aware of triggers
Being aware of my reactions empowers me to discover triggers which I can use to break the negative reinforcing loop. This improves the behavior over time giving me more control over it.
When things are going south fast, a distraction can always help clear my thoughts. I can politely walk away from a conversation or step out of a meeting: breathe, take a walk, read an article, listen to music, wash my face or grab a cup of coffee. I can re-enter the scenario once I have cooled down. Staying is just going to cause more harm than good.
As software developers we have a lot of things that can stress us out from working with different types of people, dealing with conflict (people and merges) and the need to constantly manage expectations to technical related stresses like choosing the right technology, supporting unfamiliar projects and fighting fires in production.
When we become stressed and our survival-mode kicks in, our judgements are often flawed and unnecessary mistakes are made. The same can apply for constant worrying as our thoughts take us on a journey of many paths constantly ripping us away from the present.
My final thoughts
Stress doesn’t have to consume you. There are simple techniques that we can apply to our daily lives to minimize the impact that it can have on us.
Many stressful situations can be defused by taking a breath and objectively thinking about the situation without judgment on yourself or those around you.
By being more present in our day, we can be deliberate with our intentions which can make you more productive and aware of the beautiful things around you.
By being mindful in my day, I am more at peace. I am more relaxed. I am more awake. I have more time. I am more productive. I am more free. And this makes me happy.
- Headspace, a meditation app
- Five steps to mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
- 12 Techniques to stop worrying by Cindy Holbrook
- Meditation isn’t about suppressing your thoughts and emotions by J. D. Andre