The longer he continued at the company, the more stress he felt.
For a while now, Alex has been multitasking in meetings, skipping meals, and being both mentally and physically tired.
Although it is evident that Alex needs rest when asked he says it is all fine and that it is just another day at the office.
It has been two years since he took this job and now, he is now responsible for his team, and customers and indirectly answers to the board of management. His team of 5 is now doing the work of 8 people and there is no budget for new hires.
To top it off, his stakeholders continue to change the scope of the project and do not give him the resources to deal with the changes.
When he arrives home, he takes a deep breath as if he is getting into character and gives his best to be with his loved ones. His partner occasionally asks him “where are you right now?” Since it is evident that he is somewhere else but present.
Alex is under a lot of stress from work, pretending everything is under control and trying to prove that he is good enough.
He has his good reasons or at least he believes. Society has set the rules on how to be successful. Alex mustn’t show weakness despite that he doubts his abilities at times. He fears that his colleagues will see him as an under achiever.
Alex’s body is being filled with stress and he is not fully aware of it because he believes “it is life and part of the job”. He does not know anything different.
He loves to brush it off by saying “it’s good stress”.
By the way, did you know that there are two kinds of stress? Eustress and Distress.
You probably did but did you know that it is commonly mistaken?
Eustress is what we normally call excitement. Like when his partner told him that they were going to have a baby, or when he got the management position at work and his colleagues congratulated him and even baked him a cake. This type of stress is called Eustress. In other words, your body responds for a short period of time to something positive in your environment.
The typical effects of Eustress are:
· It motivates you (excitement like you are going on vacation)
· Focuses energy (you lose track of time because it is so fun)
· Gets you excited (you can’t wait to get up and get started)
· Improves your performance (your creativity is full-on thanks to your joy)
The second type of stress called Distress is not so nice. It provides you with a short boost of power but in the long-run your physical and mental health will suffer.
This is the reaction your body experiences when dealing with negative situations such as:
· Poor management style from your superiors
· Fear of losing your job
· Trying to meet deadlines
· Dealing with drama at work
· Working on unrealistic goals
Anything that makes you feel anxious, worried, angry, or any other kind of negative emotion can take your cortisol release in your brain through the roof. For a short period of time Distress helps you become alert and avoid life-threatening situations. Prolong this stress time, especially over days and years and the results will be very different.
It is quite normal to confuse Eustress with Distress.
And it is one of the reasons why we say “I work best under stress”
Stress releases a chemical in your brain that helps you narrow your focus. When Alex is under pressure, he dives deep into the problem. The good thing for him is that he will have his full attention to meeting the deadline on time.
There is an issue however when you activate your laser focus like Alex does because you lose track of your surroundings and miss better potential solutions.
Here is what happens inside your brain under a high level of stress:
Your brain becomes compartmentalised and only uses pieces of it since the other sides such as the creative part are shut off due to fight/flight/freeze mode. According to Dr. Joe Dispensa this is called being in “high Beta” mode (the waves your brain is operating on at that moment). The more analysis you do the fewer results you will get.
1. Due to tunnel vision, when you think about the problem you want to solve, your brain shuts down, even more, to compensate for the extra stress which will take you way further from the solution than where you stand at that moment.
2. The stress is feeding your ego which is all about being selfish. This prevents other ideas to come in since they are not your own. It turns “let’s fix this problem” to “I am going to fix this problem.”
You do get to a solution though but at the cost of your health and relationships. Later on down the line you will rethink it and say “oh I could have done this instead”.
In my years of helping high-performers achieve their goals without the use of distress, I have seen over and over how stress levels affect their bodies, mental fitness and personal relationships, especially with their spouse and children.
When it comes to the body, what happens inside your brain is that the brain waves become out of balance. These waves are then carried out down your nervous system and distributed throughout the other systems such as the circulatory, digestive, and all others.
Your body starts to break apart over time and you feel it. Yet most people continue because stress is highly addictive.
The feeling of being alive, on the verge, and like you are achieving something is highly addictive. Tony Robbins says “happiness = productivity” and I can see it because when you feel productive, you feel great about yourself.
Quite often being “productive” is confused with “busy”. When under stress, you tend to tackle your to-do list like answering emails, joining meetings, nurturing business relationships, or updating your LinkedIn profile (you know in case a headhunter can save you from this chaos. Just kidding). But are you truly being productive or getting busy to feel good by getting things done?
This of course takes a toll on your private life. You start to carry your stress around and people see it by your reactions as well as feel it.
So how do you turn this around?
The first step is to slow down the brain waves. Here is an example:
Remember the last time you had a hard day, and your brain and body were so exhausted that you couldn’t even get a full sentence out? And all you wanted was a long shower. As you stood underneath that warm smooth water, you felt the stillness and enjoyed the drops hitting your body and feeling them strolling down as if they are massaging you.
And when you finally came out of the shower, your body felt fresh, your mind felt calm, and your thoughts were no longer running in all directions at lightning speed. That was your brain regulating its waves to their natural state.
My good friend Anthony Pinto put it in a nice way, he said “stress is not the problem, lack of recovery time is”. It is imperative to give your brain enough time without the stress so that it can recover.
Sometimes you don’t have a shower to use in the middle of a meeting and who would right? So, another way to interrupt the stress pattern is by slowing down your brain waves through mental exercises.
Just like in the shower, you want to shift from thinking about what is causing you the stress to coming back to your body. This means as simple as drinking your favorite drink at work and concentrate on how it tastes, feel its temperature, and anything else you can discover about your beverage. Letting any other thought that comes to your mind fade away. Then come back to the sensations for a period of a minute. This also works when you are in meetings and can't get out for a minute.
Doing this throughout the day will significantly lower your stress because your body is taking a mental break to recharge from the constant mental load.
You will be shifting your brain from being compartmentalized and narrow-focused to activating the other regions of the brain and expanding the focus which activates the real creativity side.
Some of my clients look at me like they are seeing a purple octopus in front of them when I introduce this and other exercises and some of them even tell me “That is silly”.
To which I answer, “it might be but before we label it as silly, where is that coming from?”
Once they try it and practice it, they begin to see the effects it has when regulating their stress levels throughout the day.
As for Alex, he decided to stay at the company he works for, and is now doing better with the tools he acquired to maneuver through challenging situations with more ease and flow.
I encourage you to dismiss the initial negative trigger and just go ahead and start small with the exercises I described above. No one is looking.
If you would like to learn to regulate your stress and perform at a much higher level in your career and life without having to use stress to push you, then contact me at any time, and let's talk about how you can achieve that.
Wishing you great practice,