Sometimes, when the stress is too much, serving your way through it is not an option.
Sometimes, the situation is simply too complex to handle in an ideal way.
Obviously, there are those situations in life that are overwhelming. Situations that are genuinely life-threatening. I will say that everything I have been talking about in regards to stress and serving your way through it was learned from my own personal experience of walking with my wife through her leukemia journey. If you know cancer, you know that stress is a constant companion.
But I want to talk today about different situations. The more “every day” ones that don’t involve the potential of death.
A horrible boss.
A toxic client.
An aggressive plan.
An unexpected disruption.
Each of these situations can create stress. And your best option is to serve your way through them.
But what if you can’t do that? How do you know that serving is not an option?
There are two rules that I use in my life – and will help you and your team as well.
Both rules are based on this idea: people can be addicted to stress.
What I mean is that they are addicted to success, significance, and/or power. And just like an addict to any other thing, the moment they aren’t getting “enough,” they go into survival mode.
Which can get pretty ugly.
So, rule number one is: when you are dealing with someone who is a stress addict, serving them may not be an option. If you cannot influence them or cannot adapt in a way that leads to being able to influence them later, there is a very real possibility that you may need to move on. They are simply not capable of accepting your service – and will only dump their stress on you. This is neither sustainable nor healthy. So, you need to plan on leaving that scenario. You need to get out, because all that is happening from this point forward is abuse.
Which leads us to rule number two: when you are addicted to stress (i.e. you cannot get enough success, significance, or power), serving your way through it is not your priority. Healing is.
How do you know if you are an addict? Well, how often do you react to just the possibility of failure, rejection, and/or losing control?
Even if your stress behavior is “acceptable” or “normal,” how often do you get triggered?
Occasional flareups are one thing. Being in a constant state of sensitivity is another.
As a recovering stress addict myself (yeah, I will admit that), I have to constantly be aware of whether or not I get stressed. I work very hard to be immediately aware of stress – then immediately identify it as fear. Then immediately check what I am afraid of. So that I can immediately turn the fear off and choose a different response.
If you are an addict, none of those mental steps happen. You just launch into shame/blame/manipulation/withdrawal – often with anger attached.
Serving your way through stress is just not realistic for you.
And, going back to rule number one, serving your way through someone else’s addiction is only for those special relationships that matter most. If the other person will even allow you to do so.
In closing, I know that I took a very sensitive topic and went pretty deep with it. I did that for three reasons:
- Stress is a universal – and growing – problem today. The impact of this trend is being widely overlooked.
- Great working relationships will have stress – but it doesn’t have to be toxic. We just need to know how to address it in healthy ways.
- If you are in a leadership position, your team needs you to both help them navigate their stress AND not add to it. But most organizations do an inadequate job of empowering this approach.
Finally, I am very serious when I say this: if you are stressed and need someone to talk with, email me. I’m not a therapist, but I care. And if you need someone who will help you get a little clarity so that you can figure out a path forward, I would be honored to help.
I mua. Onward and upward.
By Tim Ohai
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