We are all afraid of dying. Some people don´t even want to talk about it for fear to attract bad luck. What if fully acknowledging death would help you live more freely?
I am anxious by nature. My life as a start-up founder has only accentuated this trait of character. After all, it is my job to worry about paying salaries every month, ensuring that investors get a decent return, making critical decisions that will affect the viability of our business, or protecting the company from scenarios that could destroy our project (fire, competition, lawsuit, etc). At the same time, I have to keep positive, focus on the big picture, believe in our vision and trust that everything will come out positively in the end. I find that, after having dealt with the worries, I am better able to think about all the good things that can happen.
Highs and lows are bound to arise in your personal life or business. They may even occur in the same day a few times depending on the news, feedback and insight you get. So how do you deal with the emotional roller-coaster, unavoidable stress and anxiety?
Personally, I use a three-prong approach every time that a negative thought raises my level of anxiety beyond 'normality':
First, I take three big breaths. It tends to calm the chatter in the brain, and helps me move from an emotional to a rational frame of mind.
Second, I ask myself the key question: What is the worst that can happen?
Third, I zero in on what I believe the worst outcome could be, and I evaluate how I would handle it. I always find that the fallout, although not always pleasant, would be manageable. Knowing that, I usually realize that this negative scenario is totally controllable and will probably never materialize itself anyway. The stress level goes down right away.
Let's talk about the worst that can happen...
I always start with: 'Will I die?' I have never thought of a worse situation than death. Some people may have been close to suicide, or may think that extreme cases of 'living hell' are worse that death, but I have a hard time truly imagining it. The mind is resilient, our survival instinct is strong, and we seem to adapt to the most difficult situations. Life may not be pleasant or happy, but it beats death any time. As long as there is life, there is hope.
Once I have dealt with death by acknowledging that it is an unlikely outcome from my worries, I go through my basic needs with questions like 'Will I have enough to eat?', 'Will I have a place to live?'. These situations are in the realm of possibilities but are easy to qualm. After all, in the western world, some people may go to bed hungry, but nobody really dies of hunger.
Then, I have to deal with the emotional constraints I place on myself: ¨What will the people/friends/family think?". These limitations all have to do with ego and a sense of shame. It is hard being stigmatized. The way I handle it is by trying to align my values and beliefs to my behavior, making sure that I am true to myself, that I am not hypocritical or cheating myself. As long as I feel confident in my position, I find it much easier to manage people's potential disapproval. And If I happen to make a mistake, then the easiest for me is to own it. Trying to avoid its consequences only accentuates the misalignment between the way I behave and what I think is right. I find this misalignment is the greatest source of stress. Once a mistake is accepted, then I can start the process of moving on.
Some people have a higher threshold for internal contradictions and are capable of going through life managing and hiding them. It may be a great advantage for business, financial gain or even public recognition. I believe however that it leads to greater stress and never to true contentment and happiness. Since my ultimate priority is the pursuit of happiness (not money, recognition, etc.), I continuously work on any personal inconsistencies.
This topic is a very personal one. It truly has to do with what YOU want your life to be, and not what others want your life to be. The path I have worked out over the years to lighten the stress of living derives from my character, education, strengths, weaknesses and limitations.
Your path may be very different. Please share with us the techniques you use to handle stressful situations.