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Why “stress” needs a rebrand

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Kandi Wiens

“Burnout” has become a four-letter word and for good reason. Burnout is terrible. But the effects of stress (which can, but don’t always, lead to burnout) need a rebrand.

Stress is not all bad. In fact, while none of us are immune to stress, we all have a “sweet spot of stress” that actually makes us mentally (and physically) stronger.

In my last letter, I mentioned how Emotional Intelligence (EI) was the unexpected hero in my own burnout story. Not only did EI help me rescue myself, it also led to my discoveries about how stress itself can help us develop burnout immunity. Here’s how:

The “can”s and the “can’t”s

One of the big keys to stress management is acknowledging what is (and isn’t) in your control. Actively turning your attention to what you can control helps develop the mental resilience to shield yourself from burnout.

For instance, some things I can control are:

    • My boundaries (for me, it’s setting and holding emotional boundaries)
    • What I give my energy to (in my case, I rarely look at social media unrelated to work)
    • How I prioritize and practice regular recovery (hello Peloton friends!)
    • This list is not exhaustive. There’s more in Chapter 3 of “Burnout Immunity.”


    But I have to realize that I can’t control:

      • The past
      • The full outcome of my efforts
      • OTHER PEOPLE – their feelings, actions, how much they care or don’t care about things I care about, and on, and on, and on……(🙄 ugh!)

      Developing better awareness of these cans and can’ts is a specific and productive use of our EI to manage stress. When we learn to tune in to the difference between what we can and can’t control, we become less reactive when we respond to stressors—which are often the things we can’t control.

      The regulation needed to stay in the sweet spot

      The “sweet spot” is where we experience just enough stress to feel challenged and motivated, but not so much that we feel overwhelmed and ineffective (reactive). The more we learn about what keeps us in our sweet spot, the easier it is to stay there.

      Regulation (the ability to skillfully manage our emotions) can keep us in our sweet spot. When we’re overwhelmed, our thoughts can spiral and our feelings can hijack our actions. But learning self-regulation can prevent us from succumbing to negative beliefs and unproductive behaviors.

      Here’s a quick exercise – next time something triggers you and revs you up, ask yourself: Do I feel the urge to be impulsively reactive? If so, what can you do to be more intentionally responsive?

      You (can) have the skills and tools you need

      I find it deeply reassuring to know that anytime I start to feel like I’m tipping out of my sweet spot, I’ve got the skills and tools needed to get myself back to my baseline state of equilibrium.

      Here are some mindset shifts to try the next time you’re having a negative stress response:

        • Acknowledge your personal strengths.
        • Think about how you’ve prepared for (and overcome) a similar challenge in the past.
        • Repeat a mantra (in your head), like “I’ve got this,” “I can handle this,” or my personal favorite, “This ain’t my first rodeo…”

        (Here’s a hack: sometimes I wear a T-shirt that says “This ain’t my first rodeo” under my suit when I’m giving a keynote – like I did at SXSW on March 12th.)

        The benefits of this awareness go well beyond protecting ourselves from momentary stress. Developing this specific aspect of emotional intelligence can improve our relationships and build burnout immunity—leading to healthier, less-stressed lives in which we are happy, fulfilled, energized, and making our greatest contribution.

        We’ll never fully eradicate stress, and that’s a GOOD thing (provided that we don’t let stress take us to hell in a handbasket). Just like many things, the key is moderation—the sweet spot.

        What works best for you to disrupt a negative spiral and regulate your emotions? How do you keep yourself in the “sweet spot”? Hit reply and let me know.

        — Kandi

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