In the new book, Banish Burnout Toolkit™ (A Page Beyond, October 20, 2020), Janice Litvin provides simple, easy-to-implement techniques to manage stress to prevent burnout, engage in wellness, and fall in love with fitness. The result: lasting behavior change. This workbook is designed to help the reader learn how to change their reactions to stress from the inside out, so they can prevent burnout.
It’s based on Litvin’s Banish Burnout: Move from Stress to Success™ workshop, that engages teams to stop and take stock of their reactions to stress, where they came from, and how to change them. Managers and their teams are taken step-by-step through the journey of untangling patterns to effect real behavior change for life. The action-oriented tools provided will help you uncover your reactions to stress and learn how to re-script them.
In this article we’ll look at Tool #1: S-T-O-P and Audit to Build Awareness.
I have trained myself to S-T-O-P in the midst of a stressful moment, and it has made a significant difference in my life and in my ability to be more effective at work. With practice, you will find that your ability to short circuit intense stress responses will grow stronger and will occur quicker and quicker, until one day you are S-T-O-P–ping yourself as soon as you get upset.
That is not to say, you will never react emotionally. You would not be human if you didn’t. However, you will catch yourself in the act of over-reacting much sooner, and then you will ease the tension and eventually remove it much sooner, in the moment.
This is how the S-T-O-P process works.
S – Stop
The first part, the Stop step, is merely a trick to get yourself to pay attention to how you are feeling. Quite simply, you stop what you are thinking, feeling, or saying, just for a moment. This causes you to interrupt negative thoughts building up to extreme feelings that cause extreme behavior.
T – Take-a-Breath
The second step, Take-a-Breath, is a critical precursor to awareness. Take a very deep cleansing breath or two. Deep breathing signals the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down and change your whole state of mind, allowing you to begin thinking more clearly.
In the future, when you encounter a stressful situation, you will be able to take 60 seconds to take a deep breath to regulate your breathing and emotions, even if you don’t have time to perform the complete Stress Audit.
O – Observe
The Observe step is where the actual Stress Audit comes in. You will focus your awareness on what you are thinking, feeling, and saying, paying close attention to what is going on outside and inside of you. As soon as possible, take the time to step back and observe your reaction to the stressful experience or whatever is causing your negative thoughts or feelings
Please note that this step, Observe, is the foundation of the Stress Audit, the next part of this tool. You can apply this part of the process quickly in response to an immediate event, such as a brush with a bad driver. Or you can apply it in the written Stress Audit that follows, where you will take more time to analyze your responses to momentary stressors or incidents or possible ongoing stressful situations, or even anxieties about a difficult encounter you are anticipating in the future.
Whether you Observe your responses immediately in a stressful moment or reflect upon them later, this part of the S-T-O-P process gives you a wealth of information about yourself that will be essential to changing your behavior.
P – Proceed
As the name infers, the Proceed step means that you simply proceed, or go on about your day, while acknowledging how you are feeling. You will use the information you discovered when you took the time to Observe your responses. Then you can consciously decide how you want to move on. When you Proceed, you acknowledge that the stressor is over, that you’ve paid full attention to your feelings, and that now, you can let it all go, cleansing your thoughts of negativity. You can even choose to smile at yourself.
In some cases, you may prefer to get away from a stressful situation so that you can take a brief respite to collect yourself and decide how you wish to behave in the moment. You may need to leave temporarily, and then return to the situation, or you may decide to remove yourself altogether.
For example, one of my clients recounted attending a party where, upon entry, she was bombarded with a rude criticism by a friend. Instead of arguing, she chose to leave, take a walk around the block to settle herself, process what had happened, and then return to the party, remaining civil to the friend. This is S-T-O-P in action. She remembered having a nice time because she had taken the time to S-T-O-P and check her emotions.
CONDUCT YOUR STRESS AUDIT
As you learned in the previous discussion of the S-T-O-P process, the Observe step is the fundamental underpinning of the Stress Audit. The purpose of the Stress Audit is to uncover and focus on possible pent-up feelings in reaction to something that has happened, a stressor, or incident of some sort. It could stem from something small, such as being on hold too long for technical support, or something big, like a major disagreement or disappointment at work.
It is important to note that pushing down and ignoring feelings leads to emotional outbursts later. So the value of the stress audit is to give your feelings a place to exist.
STRESSOR – what happened?
- Physical reactions
- Emotional reactions
- Verbal reaction
- Exacerbating behavior
- Addictive Behaviors
The Stress Audit is fairly easy to complete. You simply ask yourself, "How am I feeling right now in this moment?" as soon as you can after a stressful incident. In some cases, such as when you are alone in your parked car after having over-reacted to someone or something happened, you will be able to audit your feelings in the immediate moment. At other times, like when you are in a work meeting, you will probably not be able to start your Stress Audit until sometime after the meeting. But as soon as possible after the event, try to start your audit, either at your desk or in your break area or a quiet room.
- Stressor / inciting incident: disagreement at work.
- My physical reaction: tight jaw, neck or shoulders, knots in the stomach, headache, elevated heart rate, or shallow breathing.
- My emotional reaction: anger, frustration, hurt, resentment, sadness.
- My verbal reaction: arguing, complaining negativity.
- Exacerbating behavior: letting the complaining go on too long and with much intensity.
- Possible addictive behaviors: overeating or excessive use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes, smoking, shopping, screen time, or any other type of avoidance behavior, including procrastination or overwork.
The workbook includes an Exercise for you to write about an upsetting event that happened recently, big or small. Then you write your reactions, including the level of intensity you felt. Once you complete the exercise, you are asked What did you learn from this exercise?
The follow-up chapters to this Tool #1 include Tool #2: Know Your Stress – Spin Your Stress, in which your learn to recognize over-reactions and exaggerations. You also learn that you can change your reactions by changing your irrational thinking, and how to recognize over-generalization (Over-generalizing causes us to lose perspective.), and then learning how to combat stressful "shoulds".
Next time we’ll look at Setting Healthy boundaries, guidelines for Project Management and Time Management, and enlisting an Accountability Partner.
This article contains excerpts from Litvin’s Banish Burnout Toolkit™ (A Page Beyond, October 20, 2020).
About the Author: Janice Litvin is on a mission to help leaders and teams banish burnout in their organizations so their employees can come to work healthy, happy and ready to work. She is a certified virtual presenter and SHRM recertification provider who teaches that replacing your employees is much more expensive and time-consuming than helping them be well. She draws on over 20 years in the human resources field, 10 years in the IT industry, studies in psychology, and experience changing her own behavior in response to stress using cognitive behavior therapy. Through keynotes, workshops, and accountability groups, she provides simple, easy-to-implement techniques to manage stress to prevent burnout, engage in wellness, and fall in love with fitness. The result: lasting behavior change. For more information, visit https://janicelitvin.com/.