Believe you work better under stress? or are you just addicted to it?
A Little Bit About Stress
Before we dive right in, let’s first look at what stress actually is, who it affects and how widespread it is….
Biologically, stress is actually a healthy and normal response to any ‘stressor’ (defined as a trigger that causes stress, so that’s a bit of a circular explanation). The purpose of stress is to prime our body for action in the face of a physical threat.
What happens to us physically then is that our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and triggers the pituitary glands to release a number of hormones and neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, dopamine and cortisol.
These chemicals in turn trigger our bodies to direct blood away from less immediately necessary functions (such as our immune system and our digestive system) and to our brains and muscles.
They also increase focus, awareness and bring on feelings of anxiety and danger. Our heartrates increases and ultimately we end up far more on-edge and ‘wired’. This is what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Stressors in Modern day life
Stressors in every day modern life can include angry bosses, empty bank accounts, upset partners, deadlines and public speaking.
And this is where the problem comes in. Acute stress in the wild would have been useful because it would have allowed us to run faster, to spot danger more efficiently and even to punch harder.
Once we got away, our parasympathetic nervous system would kick in putting us into the ‘rest and digest’ state and our body would recover.
But when your stressor is something abstract like debt that doesn’t just go away, it means you’re constantly in an aroused state.
It means your immune system is constantly suppressed and it means your digestion is constantly impaired. It also means your brain is constantly producing stress hormones which can risk leading to depression and potentially adrenal fatigue.
In short, stress makes you unhappy, it prevents you from resting and sleeping properly, it causes poor digestion and it leaves you susceptible to illness.
This is no joke — stress is killing people and ruining lives.
But you think it makes you work better?
The sad reality is our modern lifestyles are designed in such a way as to make stress almost a requirement.
As we have already seen, the average person is happy to work for the equivalent of six extra hours without pay.
Why would we willingly subject ourselves to this?
The answer is that we are very much rewarded for behaviors that lead to stress. We are rewarded when we take on extra work, when we beat the deadline and when we don’t complain about our workload. This could even lead to a pay rise!
What’s more, some elements of stress can actually feel quite good. When we are stressed it can make us feel more focused, it can make time seem to pass more quickly (which is handy seeing as most of us find our jobs boring) and it can help us to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Actually, being stressed produces the reward hormone ‘dopamine’. This is the same hormone that makes things like eating and even taking drugs addictive. And it’s released in even greater quantities when we complete a task on time or tick something off that to-do list.
Chances are you may think you’re working better but the chances are it’s exactly that…. you’re just thinking you are!
Maybe you’re addicted to Stress?
So do you have a stress addiction?
The first point of order is to consider the possibility that you may have a stress addiction.
Unlikely though it may sound, stress addictions are common as we find ourselves unable to pull away from work and other high intensity activities.
* If you ‘thrive under pressure’ and if you can never take time off, you may well have a stress addiction.
* If you feel bored and fidgety when you’re unwinding, you may have a stress addiction
* If your friends and family complain that they never get to see you, this is a sign of a stress addiction
* If you feel constantly ‘wired’ then you may have a stress addiction.
The first step to overcoming stress then is to recognize that you may feel it’s difficult to change these habits: but you must in order to gain freedom from stress.
What can be done
A lot of these problems wouldn’t occur if you were to use good stress/time management habits. Here are some good examples:
* Little and often — instead of letting your dishes pile up, try tackling them sooner so that they never build up to that level.
* The pomodoro technique — are you prone to procrastination? Get around this tendency by using the pomorodo technique: segregating your working hours into periods of work and rest using a timer.
* The 80/20 law — if you’re self-employed, you might find that 80% of your work comes from 20% of your clients. Cut the rest.
- Close open loops — don’t let things continue to stress you out over the long term. If you have a call to make, make it sooner and ‘close the loop’.
You should also apply these lifestyle changes to make stress easier to cope with:
1. Make sure you sleep well by going to bed at a similar time every day, by having 30 minutes to calm down with a book and by relaxing into bed
2. Make sure you give yourself breaks and holidays occasionally! No one should work 365 days a year!
3. Exercise — exercise improves stress and energy in numerous ways.
4. Eat healthily
Dealing With Acute Stress
Some ways that can help deal with acute stress include:
* Breathing more slowly which will activate the parasympathetic nervous system
* Learning mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy
* Reminding yourself of why you shouldn’t be stressed
* Removing yourself from the situation
There you have it: you now have all the tools and know-how to begin your move towards a stress-free life!
If you would like more advise on how to reduce stress, click this link to visit our website, calmhappyhealthy.com, where we have many more articles & tips on Stress & Stress management.
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