We experiences varying degrees of stress throughout our lives. It may be in the form of our job, the demands of running and growing a business, or a personal issue.
Stress becomes stressful ONLY when it gets the better of us.
Unmanaged stress is a problem that tends to create more problems. It can impact us in more ways that we think possible.
Like I always say “ Stress is not my friend who I have invited over for a cup of tea”.
Our relationship with stress is actually a lot more complex. It’s not just about how we overcome stress, but how we understand it, manage it, and harness it to lead a more productive life.
What causes stress?
According to Walter Cannon, the psychologist who coined the term “fight or flight”, the primary function of stress is self-preservation. Stress affects our brain’s chemistry in a way that can result in better attention, more cognitive activity, and even enhance our senses.
In some situations, it’s a useful response to challenges or threats that can get us mentally and physically ready to tackle them.
In some other situations, where it has no practical purpose to serve or sticks around longer than it needs to, it can be disturbing, distracting and have negative consequences.
I am sure, we all agree that stress is ultimately how we react to stressors. Stressors challenge our ability to meet our needs and wants.
STRESSORS can be external or internal
- External Stressors are challenges in our environment like our work conditions, an unfamiliar or scary task, a rainy day, noise from a construction site, a boy racer at 2am or credit card bill that was forgotten.
- Internal Stressors usually include our own thoughts or behaviors like how well we eat and sleep, our expectations from others, our feelings of anger, anxiety or emotion.
However, not all stress is the same. It can be broken down into two main types: acute stress and chronic stress.
- Acute stress can give you superpowers
We’re all familiar with this kind of stress. It’s the kind of stress that wakes us up to the challenges of the present. Constant or frequent acute stress, especially common in chaotic lifestyles, can “over-arouse” our mind, which will be distracting, counter-productive, and can result in a burnout.
- Chronic stress negatively impacts the quality of our life
This is what we usually call bad stress. It’s what encompasses and surrounds us. It can be our job that we don’t like, an unhealthy relationship that we cannot end, or a financial crisis. Chronic stress can impact the quality of our sleep and actually accelerate our aging. We may not be always able to change the sources of chronic stress in our lives. But stress, as mentioned before, is the way we react to stressors and that we can control at least to a certain extent.
- Good stress vs. bad stress
Not all stress is bad.
Some people, like my husband thrive under stress and need that pressure of a wishing past deadline to finish a task. Others meticulously plan ahead in order to avoid unnecessary pressure at all costs. Neither approach is right or wrong. It’s just important to be self-aware of how we personally react to stress. The right amount of stress can help us be more productive in some cases, and without any stress at all, some tasks would be hard to focus on.
But it goes without saying that too much stress can lead to frustration, anxiety, depression, and other negative consequences.
Now that we have recognised various types of stressors and their effects on us, lets explore a few strategies to effectively manage them.
- Prioritize what’s important over what’s urgent
It’s often hard to make a start when every task on the to-do list carries a similar weightage. It can be easy to prioritize work based on how easy it is or how much time it will take, but a popular method is to evaluate each of our tasks based on two criteria:
Importance: Does it contribute to my ability to meet my own personal and professional goals?
Urgency: Does it have to be completed soon and are there negative consequences if I choose to ignore it?
Quoting Steven Pressfield, from The War of Art “The Principle of Priority . . . states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first. “
- Say “no” more often
This is one of many important lessons I learnt from my manager. He taught me to say “NO”. No to helping others in the team at the cost of chocking on my own deadlines. He also helped me practice it often. Saying no was hard, especially as I was the type who felt obligated to help others out. But I learnt and I can say, learnt it the hard way that I can’t look out for others unless I looked out for myself first.
- Take time occasionally to unplug from the world
Technology has become something we can’t live without, it’s also what keeps us constantly connected to our work and everything that’s going on in the world. In a study on social media and stress conducted by the American Psychological Association, they found that “constant checkers” reported higher levels of stress compared to those who didn’t check their social media feeds as frequently.
Those who constantly checked their email, specifically reported some of the highest levels of stress.
Every once in a while, especially when we are over-exerting our eyes, we must try to opt out of social media for a bit by
- Turning off the notifications on our phones and other devices
- Taking a technology detox challenge
- Walk in the park while the phone is charging at home
- Change the way you look at things
I hit the snooze button the other morning gifting myself an extra 9 minutes. I was pleased to start my day with a gift to myself. I was late by only 9 minutes to Yoga and that had cost me “my spot” at the studio. It was taken and I had to take the next available one. Lesson learnt by experience “snooze and you loose”
The very same night, while I was researching for this write up, I read “Don’t hit Snooze. Don’t make the first act of your day one of procrastination.”
I like that take on it. It’s not how I had been looking at it. I’ve always seen it as ‘being kind to myself’.
May be I should try looking at it this way now.
Understanding the role of stress
Sometimes stress can be a burden that feels beyond our control. But oftentimes, it can be a powerful source of productive energy.
We need to redefine our relationship with stress and be self-aware of it. Recognise when we’re overburdened and when we’re not feeling the right amount of pressure, can be one of the best “productivity hacks” out there. If we change the way we think about stress we can live a better and less busy life.
Because stress isn’t inherently bad. It’s one of the reasons we’re still around, after all.