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How to Manage Stress Using the Inner Game

How to manage stress using the Inner Game

Find out how to manage stress using the Inner Game STOP method for International Stress Awareness Week.

– 7 mins read –

Being under pressure is a normal part of life, so how do you manage the stress that comes with it?  

There’s no secret that in the modern day, we’re continuously being challenged mentally. Statistics from The Global Organization for Stress highlight how we’re struggling: 

  • 75 percent of Americans experienced moderate to high stress levels in the past month 
  • About 450,000 workers in Britain believed their stress was making them ill 

This level of stress comes with huge costs to individuals’ mental health, the economy, and organizations. American employers are spending $300 billion every year on health care and lost workdays linked to stress. Up to 80% of workplace accidents come from stress or stress-related problems, like being too distracted or tired.

Stress is your body’s adaptive physiological reaction to help you deal with pressure or threats, and a small amount of temporary stress can in fact be useful. It can motivate you to take action, get tasks completed and it can also make you feel alive and excited. Yet too much chronic stress can have a negative effect on your mood, your body, and your relationships. Stress impairs our ability to think clearly and function productively. It stops us from performing. 

So, stress management is more important now than ever, and this year’s International Stress Awareness Week focuses on emotional management. 

So how can you manage your stress levels and emotions when facing life’s challenges? Including the financial and emotional pressures of work? 

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The Inner Game of Stress

Tim Gallwey, author of The Inner Game series demonstrates how we can maintain our equilibrium in the face of inevitable external stressors. 

The premise of The Inner Game series is that while we are all involved in outer games (overcoming obstacles in the outside world to reach external goals), we are at the same time faced with inner obstacles. These include fear, self-doubt, frustration, pain, and distractions which hinder our capabilities and enjoyment of life if we are unable to master them.

The secret to mastering your Inner Game is knowing that you have choices about how you look at external events and how you react to them. When you are playing the Inner Game well, stress decreases, performance improves, learning happens naturally, and you enjoy the experience. 

Whilst stressors can come from any number of external sources, the relationship to our self and our inner environment is the key to regulating our stress system. Why? Because it is the one arena where we can always exert control. 

When you have control over your inner environment, you become stable in the upheavals of life and work.

The challenge is that the primitive stress response is automatic, and survival based. It can be turned on in our bodies without our conscious awareness. So, when it comes to creating inner stability, it takes conscious daily effort. 

What can we do to master the Inner Game of Stress?

The Formula for Relieving Stress

Stress has a momentum all of its own, like a billiard ball after it’s struck by another ball. Many people, when they are stressed, become like billiard balls. They’re slammed and they move—not in an intentional direction, but wherever the impact takes them. 

How do you halt negative momentum? By stopping. 

Parents talk about giving their children a “timeout.” Others recall being told to “count to ten” before they act. Most sports teams use timeouts not only to rest but to think about changes in strategy or tactics. 

STOP is a surprisingly simple tool, and it means exactly what it says: Stop the unconscious momentum to maintain balance and perspective. 

This tool is comprised of four parts:  

  1. Step back. Stop the momentum and put some distance between you and the situation. This gives you a different tactical perspective with more options. 
  1. Think. What is the truth about what is happening? What’s causing you to feel stress in this situation? What are your priorities? Your options? Your obstacles? 
  1. Organize your thinking. What’s your plan of action?  
  1. Proceed. Move forward, with increased clarity and understanding.

The purpose of STOP is to be able to start again, with a clearer mind and a greater sense of purpose and control. 

STOP could just be a matter of stepping back for a few seconds or even choosing not to act. Even the briefest of pauses can be used to keep you connected with your purpose, and thus change the inevitable course of the stress responses. 

Yet some situations require a longer STOP an hour, a day, a week, or even a month, depending on how significant the decision is. 

Taking a little time to STOP saves much more time than it takes, and productivity increases when people are able to take a break, make a plan, and get control.  

Think about three times in your day when STOP would be useful, and plan ahead. For example:  

  • STOP at the beginning and end of each day to reflect and plan.  
  • STOP whenever you sense that you are caught in unconscious momentum and feel out of control.  
  • STOP before you go into a meeting, to think about the purpose, goals, and anticipated roadblocks.  
  • STOP before you pick up your child at school, to think about how you can create a meaningful moment with him or her before you both continue your day.  
  • STOP before you meet a friend for dinner, to think about the kind of conversation you want to have.

Once you get in the habit, you’ll find yourself using STOP frequently, and you’ll notice a difference in the way you approach problems.  

One caution: Often when you need to use the STOP method the most, you are least likely to do it. But wise decisions and clear choices can often be missed in these situations. So, the wisest action is to step back and reflect first.  

The outcome will always be better if you enter stress on your own terms.

If you would like to further master your own Inner Game, check out some more insights from Tim Gallwey here.

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