Yes. We all know about stress. On TV, the radio, online, and in magazines, we are frequently told how bad stress is, that the world is more stressful now than before, and that we must deal with stress to be “healthy”. In fact, there are so many articles and studies telling us how stressed we are that it can be stressful just to wrap our heads around it. We all need some stress in our lives, and some of us “thrive” on more stressful circumstances than others. But for all of us there is a breaking point. The stress becomes overwhelming and impacts how we work, how we are with our families, or how we are with ourselves.
So, let’s think about stress in a different way, and how to tap into it. I’d like you to consider stress and space. The space within you, the space around you, the space for you, and perhaps even outer space.
Think about a recent stressful situation at work. How did you feel? Were you being asked to do more in a shorter space of time? Were you hurried? Rushed? Did you feel like you weren’t doing a good job? Or wouldn’t be able to? Did you feel confused? Frustrated? Small? Helpless? Was it noisy, either in your head or in the office? Was there paper piling around you? Did it feel like the walls were closing in? Did you feel trapped? Did you feel like you needed to escape? Did it feel like you couldn’t? Did it feel like your boss was looming over you? Did it feel like pressure was coming at you from all sides? How was your breathing?
How is your breathing now, while you think about this stressful moment?
At some point, you may have experienced some or all of what I’ve just described. The next time you do, try to think about these feelings in relation to space—not having enough of it—and find a way to create space for the feelings.
We need space.
Space allows us to breathe. Your rib cage literally provides space for your lungs to expand. The space around us helps us feel comfortable and like we belong. Space allows us to be ourselves, to show people who we are, and what we can do. Having space to dream allows us to see beyond what is happening, to have something to work towards.
Remember your stressful moment? How are you feeling about it since you started thinking about space? How is your breathing? Is it deeper? Slower?
Do you feel your thoughts clearing? Your mind wondering and wandering?
This is what it feels like to have space. Space reduces stress.
How can you apply this idea of space to your stress?
Breathe. When you feel stressed, recall the space that your lungs take up. The space that they need to keep you alive. And then focus on your breathing and slow it down. Take deep breaths.
Make space. Enjoy your space. At work, feel like your desk or office is yours. Hang a picture, or several, if that’s what you want. Place your computer, files, and phone where you want them. Arrange the space so that it is an enjoyable one for you to be in. Make it was you want it. This is the space that you inhabit for many, many hours.
Find space. Think of ways you can find space in a stressful moment: during a particularly stressful project, every day at the same time I went to the same coffee shop and ordered a coffee and a pastry. I savoured those few moments before returning to the stress. For you it might be chocolate, a walk around the block, or something else that you enjoy. But find that thing and remember to do it.
Take space. What about those situations where you feel like you can’t leave? Allow yourself to take some space. Say “no, I can’t do that right now”. Say “I can get back to you.” Say “I need to go to the washroom,” even if you just spend five minutes standing in the stall. Ask for help, and take it when offered.
Look into space. When that stressful moment has passed, on your way home or on the weekend, look out the window or into your imagination. Ask yourself these questions: why am I working? Why am I working where I work? Can I continue to work there? Do I enjoy my work? What do I enjoy about my work? Allow the answers to give you a reason to be at work, to use your skills, to do a good job, to enjoy it, and a reason to accept the stress that comes with it. If these answers are not apparent, consider coming to talk to me.