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Stress and the good stuff

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

I’ve been doing a lot of work recently, and even more thinking, about stress and how it can affect people differently. With Christmas just around the corner (and the similarly timed arrival of our baby), I’ve also been thinking about how we can allow external events, particularly ones that “should” be great ones, to create stress.

In a work context, stress is a very real factor in influencing the performance of individuals and organisations as a whole, but, before coming on to that, I’d like to investigate a couple of (potentially) wonderful occasions that can be the trigger of huge stresses for some - Christmas and weddings.

Firstly, weddings. In many lists, getting married and moving house are amongst the top 5 or 10 most stressful things. In summer 2008, I got married and moved house within the space of 6 days, and that week was one of the least stressful (and the happiest) of my life. How could this possibly be?

Secondly, Christmas. I’m “causing” stress in our household at the moment, by refusing to pin down dates for shopping trips, lists for presents, plans for parties and so on (let alone a birthing plan, familiarisation tour of the hospital; that’s - probably! - not going to be needed until the second week of 2010, for heaven’s sake!). But I’m not remotely stressed by it. How could this possibly be?


Please don’t read the above and assume that I’m a wonderfully stress-free person...I guarantee that is simply not the case. But I do know that these things that would and do bother a lot of people simply don’t bother me. I think the critical reasons are something along the lines of what follows:

1) I’m focussed on the big stuff, and the little stuff doesn’t matter:

(a) The only really important thing about my wedding was that the right girl showed up - and, as I was giving her a lift, that was totally within my control.

(b) The only important thing about moving house was picking the right place for the family - and prioritising the important bits (rural, decent school, nice pub!) kept it easy.

(c) The only important thing about Christmas is having the time to snuggle in front of the fire and meet up with friends and family, and I’ve got plenty of logs and coal already sorted. [note to self - climbing on the roof to fix the chimney in the snow just before Christmas last year was FUN!]

2) Some things are not in my control, and that’s OK:

(a) Whilst moving house, there are constraints (budget, location, and so on), factors (at least partially) outside your control, such as surveys, solicitors, estate agents, and unpredictable surprises. But, if there is nothing you can do about them, there is no benefit in worrying or becoming stressed...stress about, and do something about, the things you can change.

(b) I can’t control the forthcoming birth date of the little mini-me. A couple of weeks ago, we thought (s)he would be here by now, as there were a few complications, but they’ve all melted away, and the ETA is now early Jan. It could have “ruined” our Christmas plans! Well, hardly, as I’d have a beautiful (ish - the poor thing will have a few of my genes to contend with!) baby, so who really cares about abandoning the turkey and eating a sandwich in a hospital ward?!

3) It’s an adventure!

Weddings, Christmas, births, parties, walks, holidays...they’re all adventures, and, for me, the unplanned aspects add a certain frisson of excitement to already exciting things.

People who’ve been on walks with me know that it’s not unusual for the route to change, and for the finish to be reached in the dark. They know that I’m happy to book pre-wedding ceremony drinks a couple of days before the ceremony. And they know that I actually get a bit of a kick out of that!


Being stressed about the “good stuff” seems a very strange thing to me, and that thought is going to lead me on to the next blog on stress - how to translate the definition of and approach to the “good stuff” to the “bad stuff”.

In the meantime, take a look at the following articles:

Stress and teamwork here

Leaving things to the last minute here

...and simply enjoy and don’t sweat the “good stuff”!

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gravatar Hannah – Norway
December 03, 2009 - 08:10
Subject: To stress, or not to stress..?

In response to your blog:
I too have had a similar experience with regards to lots of change in a short time. A couple of years ago I moved house, changed job and got married within a couple of months. And like you, I didn't experience the stress that many people forewarned. But why...

An analogy came to me as I read your blog: Consider stress concentration... A holepunch makes nice round holes in paper which help to distribute the stress and keep the pages in your ring binger (perhaps this metaphor will only ring true for those of you that haven't already gone completely digital and paperless). In contrast, a tiny stone chip in your windscreen, with all it's jagged edges is a recipe for stress concentration and critical crack propagation. (Can you tell that I'm an engineer?)

So where is this going..? As I read your blog and wondered why it is that people can have such different stress profiles/responses, it occurred to me that the shape of our minds (or 'our map of the world') is an important factor. Perhaps if we can locate and smooth out our mental rough edges, we can avoid those unhelpful stress concentrations, and make the most of all the good stuff in life.

I'm interested to hear how this develops in your next blog.. Translating the observation in to practice: avoiding the stress and getting full enjoyment of the good stuff.

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