Get a Grip!
Our expert gives this stressed-out sales associate some coping strategies.
Stuck for years in a deadend 9-to-5 job selling computer equipment, Andre Shambley recently made one of the most difficult decisions of his life: He quit his day job for a career in real estate. People said he was crazy.
Shambley agrees that it was risky to trade the security of a regular paycheck for the uncertainty of the current housing market, but the pressure of putting in 17-hour days—he was also moonlighting in real estate—was killing him. “My back was against the wall, and my work/life balance came into play because I didn’t have time to spend with my family,” says Shambley, a sales associate with The Keyes Co./Realtors® in Aventura.
He hopes real estate will give him the opportunity to create a balanced life—eventually. Today, like countless others, he’s just trying to stay afloat in a tough economy. Consequently, his stress level is nearly off the charts. “I truly worry about where my next transaction will come from,” he says. But he’s sure of one thing: He can’t afford to give up. “Either you swim or you drown,” he says, adding that his wife and infant daughter are counting on his success. Bring in the Expert
For advice on how to conquer his doubts and fears, Shambley spoke with Gini Cucuel, a licensed mental health counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in anxiety and stress-related issues. Here’s what she had to say. 1. Change Your Thinking
Cucuel explains that there are two basic emotions: love and fear. Negative emotions like worry, anxiety, depression and anger are rooted in fear and don’t lead to positive outcomes, she says, whereas enthusiasm, hope and joy-based decisions are constructive.
“Fear is the great immobilizer. And we’re living in a fear-based society with an overall mood of gloom and doom. That’s what we call ANTS, or Automatic Negative Thoughts. When you notice you’ve got ANTS crawling around in your head, you don’t want to let them stay. When you start a new venture from a fear-based space you’re going to have more difficulty with stress.”
She encourages Shambley to start using positive habits of thought. “Tell yourself, ‘I don’t care what the rest of the world is focusing on; I’m not going to be pulled into their bottomless pit. I’m going to focus on hope, optimism and expectations of good things.’”
Shambley shouldn’t deny that things are tough, Cucuel adds, but he needn’t dwell on it either. “It takes practice, but train yourself to find a positive interpretation,” she says. “Instead of repeating that no one is selling, remember that even in the worst of times, there are people who make money. People are still moving, and there are homes being sold. There’s no reason why you can’t be one of those [sales associates] selling those homes.”
In addition, Cucuel advises Shambley to talk himself into an optimistic frame of mind. Self-admonishing words like should, ought to and must have no business in his vocabulary. “Stop ‘shoulding’ on yourself. When you make statements like ‘I should do this’ or ‘I should do that,’ you’re setting up resistance, and you end up feeling so uptight that you can’t get anything done,” Cucuel says. 2. Appreciate What You Have
Finding things for which to be grateful will go a long way in helping to alleviate Shambley’s stress. “Make a list of everything you appreciate,” says Cucuel. “Start with what you appreciate about yourself because if you don’t love and appreciate yourself, there’s nowhere else to go.”
Shambley’s list will likely include what he appreciates about his wife, his child, his friends, his work and even the positive elements of his day. “As you’re heading home each evening, build on those positive feelings, and you’ll have a better time when you’re there, and when you leave in the morning you’ll be refreshed,” Cucuel adds. 3. Accept Your Circumstances
People put extra stress on themselves by trying to control situations and then become frustrated when they don’t work out they way they expected, Cucuel says. “The solution to a problem doesn’t come from fixation on the problem—that only intensifies the strain and muddies your thinking,” she says.
“State the problem or question clearly in your mind, then let it go and allow the answer to flow,” she says. “When you see someone who really needs and wants a house, for example, and you know there’s something out there, but you don’t know exactly what house will fit, instead of worrying about it, say, ‘I want to find the right house for this person that he or she can afford, and I want to see it just come to me.’” Cucuel says this visualization exercise will allow Shambley to focus on a positive result. 4. Take Care of Yourself
Cucuel suggests that Shambley ensure that he’s eating right and getting enough exercise. “When we’re under stress, the body produces more adrenaline than it uses, and that makes us feel edgy and panicky. Exercise uses that excess energy up for a good purpose and keeps it from damaging our health.” 5. Learn to Relax
Shambley is so busy that he rarely takes time to relax. To counter this behavior, Cucuel recommends that he start observing his body’s reaction to stress. “You’ll notice the increase in tension, heightened impatience, fatigue, end-of-rope feeling and so forth” she says.
Relaxation exercises can help him overcome the negative side effects of anxiety. “Take 20 minutes every day and let your body totally relax and your mind go blank,” she says. “Find a place to lie down and gradually visualize the tension leaving your body as you allow yourself to breathe in calmness and breathe out tension.”
She also encourages him to make time for play. “Find a way to have fun every day—either by yourself or with your family or your friends,” she says. “It doesn’t have to cost a lot—enjoy an ice cream or give yourself a chance to dream. That takes some of the negative intensity out of what goes wrong.
“Remember, what you focus on you get more of,” concludes Cucuel. “So focus on what you want, not what you don’t want or fear. Rather than jumping into the past and being scared about how things might work out, try to deal with moments as they come. Now is the only point of power that you have.”