Friday, January 27, 2012

Strategic Allocation of Attention as a Stress Reduction Technique

Here's an earlier post about strategic allocation of attention which is an old concept with brand new ramifications. SAA is a stress reduction technique as described below and a useful way to manage emotions and increase self-control. In an upcoming post I'm going to talk about a new project related to strategic allocation of attention which can have important consequences for us all.

Strategic allocation of attention sounds profound but is simple. Choosing where to focus your attention can be a planned strategy for accomplishing varying outcomes. Right now I'm thinking of SAA particularly as a stress reduction technique. Here are some everyday examples:

• The pilot tells the flight attendants to sit down and tells everyone to tighten their seat belts because it's going to be "very bumpy up ahead".
As a passenger, you have no control over the situation, but you do have a choice to manage your anxiety (if you're stressed) or to let it run rampant. Anything is better than sitting tensely, looking out the window and waiting for the next bump. Distraction helps. Reading, writing, sleeping may not do it for you. You may need something stronger!

• You have a responsibility that may exceed your ability. You're worried and you have to do it. There's not an opportunity to get prepared perfectly so you'll be winging it a bit. Again, no control, so problem-solving thinking isn't the technique to use. Worrying out loud or internally will not help. SAA may.

Here are a couple of ways to allocate your attention away from the worry, negative self-talk, anxious emotion.

• Breath in on the count of 3. Hold your breath while you count to 6. Breath our for the count of 3. It changes the oxygen, carbon dioxide balance and reduces butterflies in the stomach.

• Recite rotely any poem, speech, prayer that you've learned by heart.

• Count to 1000 by 2's or 3's.

You may be able to come up with more specific SAA that work for you. The point is to remove focus from the source of stress and your emotional reaction/response to the stressor, particularly useful when the situation is one over which you have no control. Research tell us that women in particular often have such a strong emotional response to a stressful situation or event that they're unable to allocate attention AWAY in order to try to focus on solving the inherent problem. Attachment to the stressor is the opposite of detachment from the stressor. Both attachment and detachment represent strategic choices. Where should I allocate my attention? Notice this weekend how similarly or differently you allocate attention than your strategic choices during the week.
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