Dealing with Stress – How to stand tall again


  • Annemarie Ross-Vivier, as published in the Thriving Magazine


I think most of us have at some point experienced that Sunday-blues feeling where our chest feels tight, our stomach in a knot, our mouth dry and our heartbeat racing.

Have you ever stopped to think where it comes from, and what it means?

According to neuroscience, when we perceive people/situations in our environment as a threat, our brain equips our body to survive (fight, flee or freeze) by secreting cortisol and adrenaline. Our body and brain do not know that your threat might not be on a physical level, yet it prepares the body as it would hundreds of years ago as if we are being attacked by some predator.

Interesting to note that this whole process starts with our thoughts and what we perceive as a threat, and if we explore our thoughts, we are not even always aware of the fact that we are feeling stressed or “threatened”.  It is, in fact, true that 70-90% of our thoughts happen subconsciously (without us even realising it), and only 10-30% of our thoughts happen consciously. The reason for this is that the brain is trying to preserve neural energy by pushing all routines and repeated patterns down to the basal ganglia. Basal ganglia are quiet eaters:  they pick up all patterns without conscious awareness, and then ”hardwire” these routines and patterns.

This is good, no doubt, otherwise, we always had to re-learn everything from scratch. But the downside of this is that our thoughts are being hardwired as well, which leads to “autopilot” or habitual thinking. A good example of this is the following interaction:

“Good morning, how are you?”

“I am well thanks, and you?”

Do we even think about the words or the meaning thereof? Do we even care about the answer?

The only way out of this autopilot thinking is to WAKE UP.

We need to wake up from our subconscious thoughts and habits and look at our default thinking patterns. This is when we become more aware of the world around us, and how it influences us. This is how we can become more aware of which actions trigger which reactions from us.

In this space of consciousness and awareness, we will become aware of the causes of stress in our lives. In an awake state, we will be able to evaluate if our stressors are real or if they are merely being perceived as stressful.

In an awake state, we are able to challenge our fears:

“Is there really not enough time to finish this project?”

“Am I really not good enough to get this contract?”

I want to share with business owners and entrepreneurs a great tactic my mentor shared with me years ago. It is called SOS – stop, observe, strategise – and it helps us to become more conscious in our thinking.

Habitual thinking pattern: “I won’t make the deadline, there is just not enough time.”

Stop: Stop your autopilot thoughts. Wake up. Is the stressor real, or is it perceived?

Observe: Give it a name, label it. For example: “I am feeling overwhelmed” In asking this question, we move to a different and less emotional part of the brain. This enables us to think more factually, and less emotionally.

Strategise: What am I going to do about it? What is my strategy?

You always have a few options, for example:

  • Re-prioritise current activities – reshuffle and reorder
  • Get up earlier for a few mornings
  • Outsource- get an expert or friend to help you
  • Stop procrastinating, just do it in the time you have available – make it work!

We need to understand that an autopilot, stressed space does not serve us. When we are stressed, we are in the limbic, emotional part of the brain where we are nervous and fearful. This is where our subconscious thinking sits, controlling the outcome. We need to move into a conscious and clear-thinking space where we are more in control, pro-active and innovative. A much better space to be in when we tackle a business…and life!