As April is Stress Awareness Month, every Tuesday in April I’ve been posting a blog about stress management.
This week’s topic is what I call state management or, in more technical terms, emotional self-regulation – but that’s a bit of a mouthful!
State management is a key element of Emotional Intelligence. Put simply it’s about managing your emotions – recognising when your emotions are about to get out of control and intercepting early.
Think of it like a pan of water on the stove. You know it’s heating up when it starts to bubble and you know it’s about to boil over when it starts to steam! It’s the same with emotions – you can feel them bubbling them up before you start to steam, so it’s then that you need to turn down the heat and/or let off the steam.
All well and good when all you’ve got to do is turn down a dial on a stove. But how the heck can you do that with your emotions?
Well – as I always say regarding stress management – you have far more control than you think you do. It’s about knowing what your personal warning signs are, deciding that you want to do something about it (a biggie!) and then having some quick, easy and practical strategies at your fingertips.
So, what are those practical strategies or hacks in modern parlance?
Three Top Stress Hacks for State Management
I know. It sounds too simple. But you simply can’t over-estimate the power of taking a few deep breaths. The ones from your diaphragm which make your stomach rise as you breathe in.
Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system triggering hormones which suppress your fight/flight stress response.
It’s why daily meditation or mindfulness practice is so good for you. Used in that way deep breathing can act as a stress inhibitor as well as a stress interceptor.
ACT – Stick a big capital B on your PC or laptop and remember to breathe……………….
2. Walk Away – Physical Movement
Any physical exercise stimulates the production of endorphins – our feel-good hormones.
I was working with a senior executive recently who was struggling big style with stress. She regularly went for a little walk in the park near her office whenever she felt her stress levels starting to rise.
The physical movement, the fresh air, the distractions of nature/birds/ other people and the physical distance it created from the challenge she was facing all helped calm the system.
This, in turn, allowed her to access her executive brain, get things back in perspective and start to come up with some potential solutions.
ACT – Say you’re going out to grab a coffee but grab a 15-minute stroll instead.
3. Listen to Music
The cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker calls music “auditory cheesecake” because it’s known to stimulate the pleasure/reward system in the brain.
Playing music that you love makes you feel good because it elicits positive emotions. A big part of that pleasure/reward comes from the anticipation of the music, for example, the big chorus coming up that you know so well and can sing your heart out to.
The auditory system also has close ties to the motor system in the brain linked to movement – it’s why the rhythm in music makes us want to dance, drum our fingers or tap our feet.
ACT – Create a feel-good or chill out playlist of your favourite songs and play it whenever you feel the need.
State management is a key part of stress management, so ACT on it.
- Become more Aware of your stress responses and early warning signs of stress.
- Acknowledge you have more Control than you think you do.
- And Take immediate action.
Breathe, take a walk, listen to music or combine all three.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly your system responds.