NLP Stress Management Reframed, Empowers us!

Sep 28, 2019 | Business, High Performance, Personal Change, Therapy/Coaching | 0 comments

NLP Stress Management Reframed (with Civil Engineering ideas) Empowers us!

In this blog entry, you’re going to learn a new perspective on the word “Stress” which could be a game changer for your NLP State Management skills!  Long before I became an AI consultant in 1991, and later an NLP Trainer in 1997, I spent a couple of years in an Ivy League Professional Architecture School.  While there, I had to NLP Stress Management: Redefine and then Embrace Stress, Avoid Strain.take classes in Civil Engineering.  In those classes, I learned how to design buildings from the ground up, and also how to choose the sizes and types of building elements based on their ability to manage the loads placed upon it.

It was actually my first exposure to making *Calculus* actually useful in real-world contexts.  No kidding!  If you did your calculus well, your buildings would stand up to the rigors placed upon them.  If you didn’t, they’d fail, or collapse, or distort.  That could potentially endanger lives.

Now, in high school, my peers and I would often casually use the words “stressed out” when it came time for exams or term papers.  Initially I was conditioned, like many of you, to associate having too much on my plate, with being “stressed out.”  We’d hear stories of doctors giving older people advice, “avoid stress.”  I grew up in New York City, full of power players, brokers, lawyers and doctors, and many other professionals who often over-worked 50-70 hours a week.  The word “stress” was ubiquitous — you’d hear it daily.  It became, inevitably, a bad word.

Yet, once I started taking civil engineering courses, they forever redirected my perspective about these words, and today I’d like to share this empowering frame with you!

I began to think about the word “Stress,” less as a ‘bad’ word, and more as something worth embracing.

In doing Civil Engineering and measuring the anticipated loads on any given structural member, such that you can choose the right size and material for that member’s purpose, we’d create a Stress-Strain diagram.

What’s a “Stress-Strain Diagram?”

For starters, it illustrates precisely where, how, and when, a given structural member will bend without any degradation, distort under load without failing yet never return to its original shape, and potentially, catastrophically fail.

Without explaining everything about the diagram in detail… here’s what’s most important to OUR discussion today:

Think of your lifestyle as potentially involving an Elastic phase, a Plastic phase, and potential (avoidable!) Fracture points.

Every structural element has an ELASTIC phase.  While ELASTIC, material can take an increasing load without degradation or distortion or breakage.  Once the loads are removed, the structural element returns to its original and perfect shape.

Every structural element also has a PLASTIC phase.  While PLASTIC, material takes on a load that is too heavy, and the material begins to distort under the load, permanently.  And the longer the heavy load is applied, and/or the heavier the load, the worse off the distortion becomes.  This is all prior to breakage.  Once the load is removed, the structural element relaxes a little, but never returns all the way to its original shape.  It’s been damaged.

Finally, every structural element has a FRACTURE POINT, whereby its material has taken too high of a load, possibly for too long a time, and then, distortions during a PLASTIC phase became too great to sustain.  The material snaps, breaks, or otherwise collapses.

The ELASTIC phase of materials can be thought of as what happens when we’re Stressed.  Stressed is good, providing there is decompression time afterwards.

The PLASTIC phase of materials can be thought of as what happens when we’re Strained.  Strained is bad.

What wisdom can we glean, from Stress-Strain Diagrams?

Here’s an example Stress-Strain diagram, slightly simplified to get the main points across.  Scan briefly to see the ELASTIC phase {stress}, PLASTIC phase {strain}, and FRACTURE POINT illustrated). The material can beautifully take all the load applied in the ELASTIC phase under stress, then it strains to take the additional load applied in the PLASTIC phase, then, at higher loads, it eventually reaches a FRACTURE point.

The implications of applying this to human psychology, workload management, and NLP State Management are all wonderful.  Amazingly, the metaphor works beautifully for people!

Let’s walk through how the diagram works.  Imagine you’re a point at 0,0.  And you’re going to walk the curved line shown in the graph.

As you take on more projects, busywork, errands, commitments, assignments, and more, and find your time in greater demand or it becomes harder to balance things, stress is increasing.  You start walking “up” the black line in the diagram.”

Up to a point, while you’re still in your ELASTIC phase, you can take all the load you’re carrying.  And when you set your commitments down for a while, when you finish projects, you walk back down the line.  And you feel generally good!  You’re able to relax.  You can decompress.  You make time for fun and exercise and treat yourself right.

However, if you keep taking on more tasks and a higher load of work or commitments, you tip over into a PLASTIC phase, and you become… out of balance.  Stress doesn’t actually increase, but the strain you experience, does!  If you stay on this path, it can be really bad for you… and the people who depend on you.  Also, if you’re in PLASTIC, when you do ‘metaphorically’ set your load down for a bit, you don’t feel relaxed at all.  You’ve bent.. under all the strain.  You’re not back at a healthy stasis point.  You’re temporarily… compromised.  Not broken!  Just compromised.

Now, unlike building materials, we can and do HEAL, so that’s where the metaphor breaks down.  But it does take effort and planning to get back to a healthy point.

When we think about NLP Stress Management with a Civil Engineering reframe in mind, it changes everything.

In the literature I’ve read on Stress, many people oversimplify things, and try to treat stress and strain identically.  They don’t sufficiently distinguish between the two.  Suggestions focus on relaxation techniques.  Meditation.  Good sleep, nutrition and exercise.

While these are good suggestions in some cases, they are incomplete and not always good advice.  Here’s why:

Your ELASTIC phase:

I believe the human body and mind is designed to manage stress not only well, but beautifully well.  We evolved to improve under loads we choose to take on (e.g., short term or long range goals, or work assignments!).  When we add stress temporarily, we rise to the occasion.  We elevate ourselves… we stretch, we strengthen, and we step up.  Then we can invest ourselves in learning new things, in order to handle the new effort.  The load should not be taken on 24/7, but instead, we expose ourselves to the higher load, take it on, then set it aside while we rest and recuperate, and in following that methodology, we improve ourselves.

Weight-Lifting is an incredible example of “stress management.”  We stress our muscles in a systematic way, we rest the muscle groups exercised for a time, and our muscles grow and strengthen and become.. better.

During these periods of added stress and then removed stress, we are managing stress beautifully already, and stress — in this context — is of absolute higher value to us.  We use it to grow and develop and elevate ourselves.

Consider this… your personal equivalent of your ELASTIC phase.  As long as you can stay in your ELASTIC phase, keep welcoming stress.  Its enormously useful for you, your community, and the larger world around us.

Your PLASTIC phase:

If you take on too much load, for too long, or without taking off the load for periods of time to rest and recuperate, you enter your PLASTIC phase.

A PLASTIC phase implies that if you stay there without returning to your ELASTIC phase, it will begin taking an unwanted toll on you.  It could affect your sleep habits, your eating habits, your ability to relax, your cortisol levels, your mood, your relationships, and eventually, much worse.

Ideally, you’d never enter a PLASTIC phase.  But reality has a way of occasionally overloading us.  So if you do ever find yourself there, you don’t want to stay in the PLASTIC phase very long.  Because the sooner you get back into an ELASTIC phase, the better.  The restoration of your healthier habits awaits you!


Human beings have lots of other words and names for this, some mild, some extreme:  “Heart Attack.”  “Stroke.”  “Nervous Breakdown.”  “Hypertension.”  “Divorce.”  “Sabbatical.”  “Vacation.”

To be quite clear, I’m no doctor, so I’m speaking of these phrases in layman’s terms.  None of us want the more deadly events in that list.  The rest is simply undesirable.  (Sabbatical and Vacation were shared as a joke, of course… but are clearly what happens in the mildest examples of reaching a FRACTURE point — just as they sometimes occur as perfectly healthy steps for many of us).

So of course, I don’t wish any of the above unwanted results on anyone.  We must avoid or prevent FRACTURE points.

Why do the thresholds between these matter so much?

We don’t want any FRACTURE Points.  And while we’d love to stay in the ELASTIC phase, we may have to occasionally get back out of a PLASTIC phase.  The big Million-Dollar lesson?

There is no one-size-fits-all NLP Stress Management strategy for anyone, all the time.

We need different NLP Stress Management strategies for ELASTIC and PLASTIC phases!

First, develop finer levels of awareness for what it feels like to be in your ELASTIC and PLASTIC phases.  Begin to develop a greater awareness of what it feels like to tip over, from ELASTIC, to PLASTIC.  Get to know that threshold moment.  Because in the future, from here on out, you’ll want to switch strategies and lifestyle patterns from your ELASTIC phase, into your PLASTIC phase.

What your ELASTIC phase feels like, and how to manage yourself there:

You’re in the zone, baby!  Life may not be perfect, but things are on track.  You can manage most if not all of what you’re juggling.  You’ve got different responsibilities and there are things on your plate, but you can handle them.  Your NLP Stress Management skills will be fully functional, and generally easy to access.

Chances are, you sleep pretty well most of the time, and generally have your diet in order.

Likely, you have work responsibilities, and you also some time to balance between enjoying hobbies, connecting with friends, dating, and working on home projects.  Maybe time for travel here and there.

You may have some stresses at times, but you’re really good at putting them down or aside at will.  This is healthy, normal, and sustainable.

So, what best practices should you consider for the ELASTIC phase?

Elastic Phase Strategy #1: Balance your responsibilities and commitments with relaxing down time.  Set aside the load.  We all need relaxation, and relaxation time is a necessary component of the stress-strain diagram — at some point we have to relax the load we carry.  Commit to this and follow-through.  If you add tasks to the schedule, add down time to the schedule at the same time.  Yes, seriously.  Schedule both effort and down-time.

Elastic Phase Strategy #2: When new opportunities come your way that excite you… evaluate any potential overload, and if you can’t see problems, SAY “YES.”

Elastic Phase Strategy #3: Be on the lookout for approaching your ELASTIC-PLASTIC threshold.  Dangerous cliffs ahead!

Elastic Phase Strategy #4:  Reward yourself for staying in ELASTIC — regularly!  Appreciate yourself and reward yourself for sustaining, well, sustainability!

What your PLASTIC phase feels like, and how to manage yourself there:

You’re overtaxed!  Often tired, listless.  Working too many hours.  Burning the midnight oil.  Too many deadlines.  No time for this, no time for that.  Strained.  Remember that.  Strained, which is way beyond stressed.  Stressed is good, strained is NOT.

The current state is unsustainable long term.

NLP Stress Management may degrade or suffer.  You may be grumpy or irritable a lot of the time.  Your relationships may degrade or suffer.  You’re hard to be around, which, paradoxically, makes it more difficult for helpful people in your life to help you.

You can be in this state temporarily, if you need to — we humans are capable of temporary enormous bursts of productivity and effort even to our detriment — but we must remain aware of being there, and we must enact a clear plan to pull ourselves back out of a PLASTIC phase, and back into the ELASTIC phase.

If you’re a business owner and your employees are in a PLASTIC phase, they’re in danger of burning out and getting ill, or injured, or worse.

One of my clients, a business owner with hundreds of employees, told me his experience that your employees can be there (in a PLASTIC, overtaxed state) for about three weeks, maximum.  But you don’t want them there very long, if you can help it.  Employees in an ELASTIC phase make better decisions, are better team members, and support each other more effectively.  Employees in a PLASTIC phase more costly mistakes, endanger or undermine each other, and become much more self-oriented than they are, otherwise.

So, what to do for NLP Stress Management?

Plastic Phase Strategy #1: Reality Check.  Recognize the unsustainable reality of the current state.  Did you enter this phase voluntarily?  If so, set a deadline for returning to Elastic, in less than three weeks ideally, and create a plan to make it happen.  If you got to this phase accidentally without planning it, then, create a plan to return to Elastic either immediately or ASAP.  Choose to make sensible lifestyle changes, and get started immediately.  You cannot continue with the status quo.  You may have gotten here with good intentions, but if you’re honest with yourself, it probably happened with good intentions AND poor execution.  Do something different starting now.

Plastic Phase Strategy #2: If you’re in PLASTIC, and new opportunities come your way that excite you… your new response — your only response, should be to SAY “NO.”  You really need to get good at saying no.  And there is no better time to say no to new hassles, responsibilities, requests, demands, etc — than when you’re in a PLASTIC phase.  My anecdotal observation:  Failure to say NO to new incoming issues when in a PLASTIC stage is probably more responsible for nervous breakdowns than any other cause.  It makes sense, right?  So get good — really good — at learning to say “NO!”

Plastic Phase Strategy #3: One by one, finish the things on your plate (or desk), and get them off your agenda.  Finishing things gives you more fuel and energy.  Leaving things incomplete drains energy.  Make sure that as you finish things, do NOT use this as a reason to justify saying YES to new things, until you’re back in your ELASTIC phase.  Shrink your task-list, systematically.  And enjoy every “completion” thoroughly.  Take a deep breath, relax for a bit, then re-engage to reduce the task-list further.  No one can reduce it but you, so… get it all done, all while saying “NO” to new things!

Plastic Phase Strategy #4-A: While you’re in a PLASTIC phase, withhold rewards to yourself.  Do NOT reward complacency and unsustainability.  This makes remaining here less pleasant.  Which it should be.

Plastic Phase Strategy #4-B: Once you do, in fact, return successfully to your ELASTIC phase… honor the transition, with some kind of break.  A vacation, a trip, a massage, a long weekend where you do nothing at all but decompress.  This is important to honor and use as a reward strategy.  Create experiences where you measurably reward yourself for returning to ELASTIC (just as you reward yourself for staying in ELASTIC in a sustainable way!)

I invite you to ask yourself and honestly answer NLP Stress Management question(s):

  1. Are you in a PLASTIC phase?
  2. If so, how long have you been there?  Just briefly?  Or, too long?

I recommend not spending much time focusing on how or why you’re still there.  We could refer to the famous Boiling Frog metaphor (a frog thrown into a boiling pot of water will instantly jump out, but a frog put into a pot of water that’s room temperature, and then heated up slowly, will eventually cook, not noticing the change.  Instead, just forgive yourself, make a clear decision that the Status Quo must change.  Get yourself into a sustainable set of habits for managing your loads.

So… you’ve got the questions… only you can answer them… and now you’ve also got improved NLP Stress Management success strategies from here on out.  Let me know how it helps you!

(And of course, if you need any additional assistance, I’m here for coaching sessions!)

Author: Jonathan Altfeld

Photo (of “Stress” written) by Pedro Figueras from Pexels