How to manage stress better: Be the egg, not the potato
Stress and challenges are part and parcel of the solo life. While we can’t control the challenges themselves, we can learn how to manage stress better.
Five years ago I had a complete breakdown. Several years of relentless stress from running my business had triggered extreme anxiety, which in turn triggered depression. The end result? I found myself in a very bad place.
It took a really long time to emerge from that bad place and by the time I did, I knew the equation was:
Stress = Anxiety = Depression
I never wanted to return there so I avoided stress like it was the plague.
My husband, who had taken over running the business, also knew the equation. So he began to protect me. Narky emails from unhappy clients? Worries about whether there was enough income coming into the business? Staff issues? For the past few years he’s kept them all to himself.
And I’ve been supremely grateful.
But recently, the Universe, as it’s wont to do, has been sending me a message. At least, that’s my interpretation of the fact that I’ve come across this quote in three places in two weeks:
Now, yes, like all quotes it’s a bit pithy and you can take it a few ways. But for me, I feel this quote is sending me the message that it’s time to put my big-girl-pants on. Time to stop running from challenging situations. Time to start sharing the stress load with my husband again.
I’m far more resilient now than I was five years ago and that’s not just because I’m in a better place mentally, it’s because I now know these five things about how to manage stress better:
"The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It’s about what you’re made of, not the circumstances. "
1. Only the controllables can be controlled
In the early years of my business I’d gotten in the habit of thinking if I was really organised and able to anticipate what people needed before they even needed it, then I could effectively control stressful situations out of my life. Ha! All this line of thinking did was ensure when a stressful situation arose, I’d get angry at myself for not having anticipated that thing could happen.
Yes. I know! Even I can see that’s ridiculous now I’ve written it down!
Now I know that no matter how organised we are, shit can, and will happen. But the good thing about life is …
2. We can always deal with the ‘now’
A few years ago someone told me I had to read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now because it would be life changing. And they were right. Whenever I find myself leaning towards the foetal position these days, I return to a single line from that book: “You can always cope with the now.”
Tolle is right. My (and your!) strike rate for dealing with the ‘now’ is 100%. We don’t have to like dealing with the ‘now’. We just need to know that we can and will.
3. Stress isn’t necessarily ‘bad’
A few years ago I saw this TED Talk from Kelly McGonigal where she showed how stress is actually only as bad for us as we think it is. This was a big revelation for me because, (the stress = anxiety = depression equation aside), I’d always believed stress was physiologically bad too and it justified my avoidance of it. But McGonigal urges us to look at stress differently; to instead interpret the physiological reaction as an indication that our body is energised and ready to meet the new challenge head on.
4. Running a business is a privilege
Comparisons can be odious, but sometimes they can also be a nice reality check. I’m privileged to live in a country where a woman has the freedom and tools to start her own business. I’m also privileged to:
- Live in a country where the barriers to starting and running your own business are negligible;
- Have a business that is nearly nine years old given how many businesses fail in their first year;
- Have a business that’s surmounted many challenges and has been able to evolve in a world that is becoming increasingly digital.
But mostly I’m privileged because, despite the stress, my business ticks some really key lifestyle boxes for me and my family.
5. Surmounting challenges equals growth
Every challenge I’ve faced down since first starting my business nine years ago has led to learning and growth that I’ve been able to put to good use. These days I make better decisions. I’ve learned to spot the difference between an ‘opportunity’ and a giant time suck. I’ve become a better problem solver and communicator. In short, all those challenges have made me a better person!
So back to the potato and the egg.
It’s clear to see that I’m much better equipped to deal with the challenges of both business and life these days. And it’s clear to see that, in recent times, I’ve been taking the potato option more out of habit than necessity when presented with a ‘boiling water’ scenario.
So it’s time for that to change. It’s time to put that hard-earned, newly acquired mental-strength to the test.
From this point forward, if I find myself in a bit of hot water, I’m going to choose to be the egg.
How do you respond to stressful situations currently? Could you learn how to manage stress better? Are you in a position to choose to take the challenge head on rather than curling up in the foetal position?