The relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship you are ever going to have. It influences your other relationships, and it sets the tone for how you treat yourself and allow others to treat you. Your second most important relationship, if you want to do well, is how you manage stressors.
While stress is a normal and inevitable part of modern life, it doesn’t have to be the reason why you didn’t achieve your goals. In fact, it could be the reason why you do achieve them.
In my corporate career I worked with many smart people who had varying successes in the organisations I was a part of. And while they all had the same access to learning and development, few knew how to ask for help for fear of being considered soft or weak, and even less considered their relationship with stress as their biggest obstacle. Yet in my view, it was their relationship with stress that enabled them to take a broad view or not, learn or not, implement strategies or not, and work smarter or not.
Stress is known to impact how you think and feel, and what you do and say, so it is inevitable that unless you can recognise and interrupt when you are experiencing too much stress then your thoughts, feelings, actions and words will be negatively impacted.
In my experience working with goal-oriented clients who have suddenly started to feel a heightened loneliness or emptiness inside, their ability to focus which was their superpower, becomes their weakest link. Then the cracks begin to show. As a result of too much focus, they forget to nurture their own relationship with themself and others until the impact is undeniable and unsustainable for oh so many reasons.
As a result of the perception of stress, it sets off a series of chemical reactions in your body which you have no choice over. Your body releases stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, in the anticipation that you will need to escape your stressor to remain safe. It continues to release those stress hormones until such time as the perception of the threat is no longer there. Until that time your body and brain are working as if they are under threat.
As a result, during this time your ability to think clearly and make good decisions is compromised. This is because the stress hormones, especially cortisol, negatively impacts that part of your brain that is responsible for evaluating alternatives and making good decisions. Perspective becomes warped. If you work with a stressed-out colleague, you may experience this as that colleague adopting a single-minded approach that focuses on the task at the expense of the relationship. They may be curt and unnecessarily abrupt.
If you experience prolonged periods of stress without relief, it is likely that there will be a stress manifestation somewhere on your body and possibly somewhere inside your body, as your body will continue to make adaptations until the threat or perception of stress changes to no threat or less stress.
The longer your perception of stress exists the more harmful it is to you both physically and mentally.
As the public has become more informed about mental health and various diagnoses, signs and symptoms there is often confusion about the differences between stress and anxiety.
Stress is external to you. It occurs when your perception of what is being asked of you is more than what you can do or deliver (an external identifiable threat). Once you have figured how to achieve what has been asked of you or you deliver it, the threat is removed, and the stress dissipates.
Anxiety is when your internal response to stress is experienced as a persistent feeling of fear, usually in the form of apprehension or dread. There is no identifiable threat, and the feeling persists well beyond the stressful event or task.
Like anything there is always a sweet spot and it’s tailored to you and your needs. You may have noticed that with too little stress, you get bored and up to mischief. Too much stress and you may find yourself paralysed by it. Just the right amount, which is different for everyone, and you may find yourself being your most productive and doing your best work. That is where you are the best version of yourself inside and outside of work. It is then key that you discover where your sweet spot is otherwise how can you move toward it?
Emotions are natural and normal. They are signposts of where you are at. Learn from them by acknowledging them and recognising their positive intention for you. Often stress is communicating that you that you’re over-committed or you need to pay attention to what you are doing because the task is important. Understanding what your stress response is communicating enables you to lessen its impact and make good choices.
Reflect on stressful situations and your thoughts, feelings, and experiences at that time. This way, you can learn from the experience and remind yourself of the choices you made, why you made them, and which worked or didn’t work. This way, you can improve on your situation the next time it happens.
While it might feel like it, you are never alone unless you choose to be. Help is one conversation away. Help is available if you’re open to looking for it and willing to accept it. You can speak to a professional who can provide alternative perspectives and strategies so that you can understand your stress response more clearly and leverage it. You can also turn to friends, family and mentors that are supportive of the goals you are trying to reach. Talking through things, be it with experts, loved ones or trusted colleagues, gives you the opportunity to explore your thoughts and feelings while also getting an outsider’s point of view so you can make educated decisions that are best for you.
Good communication is a skill you should develop so that you can better manage how you communicate when you are stressed. Knowing how to deliver a message, in a relational way, to your audience is key to reaching them in a meaningful way. The second part of good communication is just as essential to ensuring your success. That is being able to receive both transactional and emotional information from others and truly understanding what they are saying. Even when the topic is uncomfortable, being able to discuss it well will help you build stronger relationships.
As you grow your comfort zone, you’re likely to feel some anxiety. This can be interpreted as excitement as you grow or feelings of stress over doing something new. You can overcome much of this nervous energy by moving your body more and reminding yourself that these feelings are normal. Rather than retreating to your comfort zone when you feel stressed, try taking a fast walk to work it off. Before tackling something new, exercise to not only help get rid of the additional energy caused by the newness, but to also get the blood and oxygen flowing through your body so you can better focus on what you’re doing.
Lack of good sleep can lead to heightened stress levels without any identified trigger. And it can get in the way of decision-making and the ability to accomplish what you set out to do. If you feel constantly stressed and are unable to identify a change in stressors, take a look at your sleep patterns. Find ways to get a little better sleep at night by allowing enough time to sleep as well as preparing for a better night’s sleep.
Remember that merely feeling stressed is not a good enough reason not to do something, especially if it will assist in your growth and success. Sometimes you have to make changes to see progress and achieve results. Instead of letting stress hold you back in unhelpful patterns, use it to catapult you to success.
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If you are struggling to manage your stressors and grow your comfort zone, book in a confidential call with me where we can explore how working together you can have a healthy relationship with stress.
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