• sarah07003

Dealing with Stress Behaviors


Photo Credit David Garrison


One of the reasons that I work with the Birkman Method® assessment is because it so clearly captures what an individual expects from others, which is a clear indication of the kind of environment that will minimize stress for her. And the other thing this assessment does is to predict with astonishing accuracy how she will behave when stressed—those ways of behaving that seem automatic and almost out of our control when our needs are not met.


One of my stress behaviors is that I cry. If I am totally stressed out, if I am really frustrated with how things are going for me, I experience what, for me, seems to be an uncontrollable crying jag. It might also be accompanied by an explosion of verbal expletives.


I can share this easily now because I know I am not unique. Your stress behaviors may not include crying, but I am absolutely sure you have some behavior that you exhibit when you are totally stressed out. You probably are not proud of it. I am not proud of crying, and it was particularly problematic in my corporate jobs.


What can we do about stress behaviors?


Step 1 is always awareness. Are you aware of what your stress behaviors are? Because I am aware that crying is one of mine, when I feel that crying coming on, I can recognize it as a stress behavior. Just knowing this helps me to pause and choose what I will do. A drop or two may come out of my eyes, but rarely anymore do I vomit expletives.


What I also know about stress behaviors is that they are a signal that some need is not getting met. So I can focus instead on how I can get that need met. What is that need in the moment? What is 1 thing I can do right now to get that need met? This is often enough to refocus the liquid and audible eruptions to something more productive.


What is curious about our stress behaviors is that they are often the farthest thing from the underlying need as they can be. For example, I have an expectation, a real need, that people be straight with me. I cannot abide people “beating around the bush.” But what do I do when I sense this is happening? I cry. Now what rational person would see someone crying and conclude, yes, she needs to be dealt with in a straightforward and factual manner? That is the impossible situation I create at work when I exhibit this particular stress behavior. I am essentially signalling, “Be gentle with me!” And this is the exact opposite of what I need and tends to make the whole situation worse.


But now, if I sense the waterfall starting to flow, I immediately ask myself, do I sense someone is not being upfront with me? What I can do in that moment is to be clear about what my need is. So I can then say, “It would help me immensely if you would just cut to the chase and tell me what is on your mind.”


I encourage you to figure out what your stress behaviors are and think ahead of time about what might be some alternative things you can do in those moments to better get your needs met. The Book of You® based on the Birkman Method® assessment is a great way to build awareness of your stress behaviors and to put plans in place now about what you could do instead. You can get a Book of You® at bookofyou.com/books.