Stress is the New Fat

Stress has become quite the epidemic in this country, particularly when it comes to work. According to Jan Bruce, co-author of MeQuilibrium and former publisher of Martha Stewart Living’s Body & Soul Magazine, “stress is the new fat.”

As odd as it may sound the statement certainly does resonate. For decades stress and burnout have plagued the American workplace in a similar way that obesity has plagued school aged children. Contrary to what multitudes of marketers and motivational speakers may want you to believe, there is no silver bullet to magically eliminate stress just as there is no permanent cure for obesity. Stress is something that must be monitored and managed on a continual basis. However, Bruce points out “conventional wisdom has always been that stress must be eradicated.” This mentality inspired Bruce’s new book and the launch of her company.

Bruce believes that stress is about emotional well-being and when she looked at what was out there nothing really addressed stress from this perspective. “We all have beliefs that are ingrained in us that act to block us from pursuing what we know is best for us both physically and emotionally” explains Bruce. The challenge is attacking these beliefs and reframing how we view our stressors. During our conversation she shared three strategies for better managing day-to-day stress:

Banish the Burnout: Bruce believes we have a tendency to prioritize and schedule the ongoing neutral to negative events in our lives while leaving positive events to happenstance. In other words we don’t proactively make the time for those things that are nourishing to us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Instead, we focus our attention on making sure our obligations such as work, chores, caretaking… get done first. This mentality all but ensures burnout will come sooner rather than later. Just as forgetting to eat breakfast or skipping lunch to save time will more than likely slow you down, so too will neglecting to nourish your heart and mind hurt your ability to perform at a highest level.

Bruce notes that if you ever find yourself squeezing in time for your spouse, children, or friends around your work schedule you should ask yourself: What does this say about me and how I prioritize my life? Shouldn’t you be scheduling work priorities around your life priorities? Take some time to reevaluate what you prioritize and how you allocate your time as you may be unwittingly forging your own road to burnout.

Calm Your Emotions: Stressors prompt reactions. The nature of those reactions depends on you and the narrative you decide to create. For many of us the allure of negative self-talk is just too strong to resist. The problem is the cascade of negative self-talk can very quickly lead you down a counterproductive path. Consider how often you react to an acute circumstance like missing a train in a way that extends the ramifications far beyond reality. Have you ever been guilty of making the leap from thinking I’m going to be late to I’m going to get fired, lose my house, become homeless..? We all do it and it’s just not healthy or productive.

Bruce explains one way to deal with this is learning to “trap it, map it, and zap it.” First you need to spot those negative feelings and trap them as soon as they start to manifest. Then, map those feelings by connecting them to a particular thought or trigger. Ask yourself: What is it that is bringing on this wave of emotion? Finally, examine the feeling and ask yourself if it is really warranted? If the feeling doesn’t seem to match the situation you need to step back, take stock of the facts, and recalibrate your thinking.

Navigating Your Icebergs: Sometimes the act of merely calming your emotions may not be enough. Bruce notes that when a stressful event elicits a highly charged reaction it is likely rooted in something deeper that may need more exploration. Stress induced outbursts often stem from what we believe to be attacks on our deeply held beliefs, which may be faulty or at the very least somewhat skewed. Bruce refers to these as iceberg beliefs.

Iceberg beliefs can cause a lot of anxiety and pain for us individually as well as those around us. The idea is to take stock of your iceberg beliefs or those assumptions about how you live and what you believe in order to make sure they are truly yours and not subconscious holdovers from your past. It’s important to acknowledge these emotional drivers and consider reframing how you view them so they become a source of healthy contemplation as opposed to triggers of anger. Bruce points out that we often forget the stress triggering events around us are not always as intentionally directed towards us as we may believe.

There is no doubt that stress is a serious issue in this country and just like our weight it’s something we must all take personal responsibility for by monitoring and managing how we think and act every day.