If you’re like most people, you feel like you’re being pulled in 20 different directions and you don’t have time to handle everything that’s on your plate.
But actually, some stress is good.
You need some stress to kick you into action. Working with a short but reasonable deadline increases your stress some but it also increases your ability to perform.
The problem comes when your stress gets out of control. That’s when your enthusiasm and productivity take a plunge.
There are tons of things that can cause you to stress out:on a day-to-day basis:
Feeling pressure to impress a new client, dealing with teammates who don’t do their fair share, feeling like your time is controlled by other people’s agendas, trying to get everything done on your to-do- list, yadda yadda.
Maybe you are working under a very tight deadline but you also have some really important demands on your time– small children at home to take care of or even a sick parent in the hospital.
That’s a lot for you to handle.
And then on top of that you crave some time for self-care (exercise and sleep!) and time for hanging out with family and friends.
Sometimes things pile up too high for us to manage.
That’s why you may be going through the day with racing thoughts, knots in your stomach or shoulders so tight that they’re up around your ears.
What makes it worse is that our brains are biologically primed for stress.
We are wired to be stressed out.
Feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious or fearful shift you into survival mode. Your brain goes into “red alert” mode as you shift into your survival brain.
This “stress response” in your brain comes from the days of saber tooth tigers. It got our butts in gear so we could run away or fight so we wouldn’t be a tasty snack.
So the stress response is amazing in life-or-death situations like this.
But now day those rarely happen.
The negative things in your life are mainly frustrating experiences rather than life-or-death situations. For example, you’ve pushed yourself beyond the point of exhaustion to meet a deadline, or you’ve made a mistake in front of someone whose opinion matters and now you feel like an idiot.
In all these cases where you feel stressed, your life isn’t on the line. But your “survival” brain still gets triggered.
And your brain and body react the same way as if you’re still being chased by a fierce, wild animal out to eat you. They shift into the stress response instantly and automatically as if your survival depends on it.
Modern day stress
It doesn’t help that you live in a world where being stressed out is applauded and seen as the natural way to be.
We brag about how many hours we work, how long we commute and how little sleep we get.
In fact, some of us are so addicted to working under stress that it feels weird to be relaxed and focused. Maybe you believe that you need stress to be at your best.
So we use our favorite ways to create stress: hurry, worry, and caffeine.
But we don’t realize that what we’re doing is shutting down the parts of the brain that are important for top performance
Stress is an energy vampire and a performance killer.
Here’s what happens when you’re under stress:
Your brain literally can’t think clearly and easily because you don’t have the right brain chemicals. It’s
also not making the brainwaves you need to relax and pay attention to all the details of your day.
Basically, you lose your smarts; stress chemicals give you “tunnel-vision” so you lose sight of the big picture. Sadly, you can only handle simple-minded, black-and-white thinking. (Forget about being creative…)
Under stress, you might make impulsive decisions or take non-productive actions that don’t help you move forwards.
Even worse for the people around you, you lose your sense of humor! What’s worse, your stress rubs off on them! Yikes!
To put it simply, the stress response causes your brain to go haywire by turning off the parts that help you perform well and activating the parts that help you survive.
What do we do?
Anything you can do to chill out will actually help your brain function better (not talking about beer here!).
Here’s a quick thing you can do to ease your stress: Talk to your brain.
It sounds crazy but it works.
Just thank your brain for trying to take care of you. Then tell it kindly that your life is really not on the line; your world won’t come to an end if something doesn’t happen right when you want it to.
Tell your brain you can take it from here and that it’s okay to relax. Then take some deep breaths and feel your shoulders drop.
Do your best to listen to all the signals your body is giving you when you’re nearing your limit.
Don’t try to ignore these signs and push ahead. You’re not going to be accessing your best ideas or doing your best work.
Instead, take a chill pill. Go for a walk. Play with a puppy or small child.
If you don’t have those on hand, watch YouTube videos with tumbling puppies or laughing babies.
That’s right. Just chillax!
Your brain will thank you.