Understanding Ourselves

Is ‘Keeping Calm and Carrying On’ causing you stress?

Is ‘Keeping Calm and Carrying On’ causing Stress? – Here’s some information that will help – It’s OK to have feelings, use them as information, and say what you need.

Perhaps you have values around ‘toughing it out’, staying emotionally detached to deal with highly emotional situations, being able to take ‘unpleasant decisions and never having a day off sick. Your reliability and toughness have given you a reputation at work which makes you great to be with in a crisis.

These values are positive. They may have got you this great career and, if you have enough energy to keep them up, that’s fine.

As a therapist though I know that each of these worthy values comes with some ‘internal messages’ like  ‘Don’t give in’, ‘Don’t ask for help’ or ‘Don’t show your feelings’.

These internal messages are quite demanding and can result in internal pain or internal stress (You may have external stresses too like a new team, a new manager, a new home or a recent loss).

In our early family taking these values very seriously (e.g. bravery, toughness, not showing our emotions) was likely to have been a way to stay ‘OK’ around a parent-figure. This parent-figure may have even modelled the values themselves.

Do you have an idea of who this parent figure might have been? Who was it who –

  • Toughed in out – had made their bed & lay in it – never took a day off sick
  • Expressed little emotion
  • Was uncomfortable, or reacted harshly, when others expressed their emotions.
  • Stayed calm under pressure.

Being ‘OK’ around this parent figure may well have been a useful strategy for receiving ‘positive strokes’, avoiding criticism, or even staying safe. But those days are gone. If ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ is causing you internal pain then things need to change.

As human beings our resources are limited and this limitation needs to be accounted for.

It’s really hard on yourself to expect to ‘Be Strong’ all the time. Feelings (our own and others’) give us information about our current situation, and ignoring this information may not bring the most effective outcome.

In most cases effectiveness is maximised by allowing ourselves to feel. This ‘feelings information’ can be used along with all the other information we have about a situation to ask for what we need.

Some Challenges

How would it be to ask others to help occasionally? It’s not a weakness, it builds relationships.

Do you take regular meal breaks? Get enough water? Can you take time off to heal when you’re unwell? Bodily feelings like hunger and tiredness are a great place to start.

Can you ‘be there’ for someone close when they are upset? Just listen and say back what you hear (“that sounds like a tough day”). They’re not ‘being weak’, they’re giving information about what their situation is like for them.

If you are a police officer or paramedic who attends traumatic situations thank you for bringing your values to work. But do you need to bring them to skipping lunch, or to a family crisis (when accounting for feelings would increase effectiveness). Or, to moving a heavy sofa (when asking for help would increase your effectiveness).

Making Changes

For a more complete picture of what your ‘driver behaviours’ might be, take a look at my page entitled ‘Experiencing Stress at Work?‘ and complete the ‘Driver Questionnaire’ which is available there.

If you start experiencing something uncomfortable when you allow yourself to ‘do feelings’ then revert back to your values for a while.

Everyone is different and any self-help process can only offer ideas in general terms.  It may be that going against these old ‘internal messages’ means some deeper work.

Why not book an initial assessment session with a counsellor/therapist who is registered with a nationally recognised professional body (such as BACP or UKCP in the UK)?