Excerpt from the book, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Energy, But Were Too Tired To Ask, by Barbara J. Stepp, CH, NLP Master Trainer, and Dr. Paul Varnas)
Are you having a stressful day? Chances are you are or you will have shortly. When think about it, stress is around us all the time. That’s why it’s so important to understand stress and to learn how to manage it successfully.
To best appreciate what stress is and how it influences our lives, let’s look at how stress helped our forefathers survive….
When primitive man walked through the forest, he often would encounter a predator such as a lion or bear. His heart rate would increase; his pupils would dilate; his blood would go out of his digestive system and into his arms and legs; his blood clotting ability would improve; he would become more aware, and his blood pressure would rise. At that point, he’d either pick up a stick and try to fight the animal or run like hell and find a safe place to hide. The physiological changes brought on by the adrenal glands would make the body more efficient at doing either of those things. It is called fight or flight response.
If he survived the ordeal, chances are it would be a while before such a strain was put on the adrenal glands and the rest of the body. He would have an opportunity to relax, eat nuts and berries, and a little bear steak (if he was lucky). In short, he would have a chance to recover.
Unfortunately, many people today find themselves under constant stress. When this occurs, the adrenal glands don’t derive the benefits of a recovery period and the immune system function decreases. This results in a wide variety of health problems, including fatigue, colds, allergies high blood pressure, and digestive problems.
Worrying is another major cause of stress. Worry can be compared to interest paid in advance on money you haven’t borrowed yet. Unfortunately, your adrenal glands don’t know the difference between a real stressful situation or an imagined one. Therefore, worrying about nothing can cause just as much damage as an actual problem. Keep in mind that it’s the amount of worry, not necessarily the size of the problem that stresses people out.
Is Stress Good or Bad? Stress is often associated with the negative symptoms we’ve discussed.
However, without stress there wouldn’t be motivation. In fact, peak performers in all walks of life thrive in stressful situations. Just imagine the stress that goes with closing the “big sale”, launching a new product, or making the winning shot at the buzzer. From business to sports, peak performers use stress to help elevate their performance to new levels.
Peak performers understand that it’s not stress, but how one perceives and deals with stress that counts. They have learned to harness the power stress provides and channel it to create peak states, for physical, mental and emotional performance.
Rick Pitino, coach of the Boston Celtics, has an interesting way of relating stress to peak performers. He feels that to be a peak performer, one must distinguish between stress and pressure. He describes pressure as something we put on ourselves when we set high standards of excellence and then struggle to meet those standards. Pitino says that, “Stress is negative energy that is caused by external forces when people aren’t focused or prepared for challenges”
Peak performers know they are at their best only when they are sufficiently challenged. Challenge is related to situations where the person’s skills are taxed to a new level while the chance of success is still a possibility. For peak performers to grow, they must put themselves in the Peak Performance Zone. This is where their capabilities are put to the most rigorous test and where the opportunity for success and failure are always present. If the task becomes too easy, stress is reduced, boredom sets in ad performance drops off. On the other hand, when failure is imminent, anxiety increases, people start to press, and performance deteriorates.
An interesting characteristic found in peak performers is the need for constant challenge. They find as their skills increase, they feel the need to seek out more challenging situations. In his book, Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmilalyi, explains why people seek out the zone. “One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long. We grow either bored or frustrated; and then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or to discover new opportunities for using them”. Peak Performance occurs in the Peak Performance Zone where skills are appropriately challenged by the skills at hand.
To further demonstrate how the balance of skills and challenge impact performance, simply compare the quality of performance in professional sports when it’s an exhibition game to the championship. Or in business, compare a sales presentation to a large customer where the account is on the line to a cold call on a low volume prospect. In either situation, the contrast in performance is striking.
Managing stress is like lifting weights to build muscle. In order to grow muscle. You must employ both progressive resistance and rest. If you continually use the same light weights, the muscle won’t be stressed and won’t grow. On the other hand, if you use heavy weights every day and never let your muscle reuse, you will experience fatigue and the muscle will break down, instead of grow. The key is progressively add weights that consistently challenge your muscles to grow and provide them with the appropriate opportunity to rest.
This applies in sales, as well. For example, a new salesperson usually starts making calls on smaller accounts that are appropriate to his/her skills. As the salesperson’s skills and confidence increases, the size and difficulty of the accounts increase.
There are four key rules to progressively manage your stress for peak performance:
- Know your threshold for stress (What is your peak performance zone?)
- Constantly raise your threshold by challenging yourself to new levels of performance.
- Create intervals of rest between periods of peak demands. Remember, if you can’t recuperate, physically and emotionally, you can lose the capacity to grow; and possibly, over time break down.
- Control the controllable. This means, manage the stress in your life that you can control by:
- getting sufficient rest
- eating for proper nutrition
- drink a minimum of 8-8 ounces of water daily
- exercise regularly
- stop worrying.*
*There is great wisdom in the serenity prayer. Remember:
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can and
Wisdom to know the difference.
Some simple techniques to manage or eliminate stress:
- Listen to your body. If you feel tired, rest. Many Americans suffer from sleep deprivation, which causes your brain and body to be stressed. Take the time to rest.
- Change your physiology. When you feel stress, simply get up and move around or stretch. This eases tension and reduces stress.
- Do simple breathing exercises several times a day. Take five to ten deep cleansing breaths. Inhale deeply and exhale slowly.
- Visualization. Many people can reduce their stress level instantly by simply changing their mental images. Just push the stressful one off into the distance and create mental images that you find soothing and comforting to help you relax mentally and physically.
- Manage your self-talk. Most of us have a constant internal dialogue going on. Both the content and quality of voice used affects our stress level. Change your tonality to a pleasant one. Make the effort and change your words to more positive ones. For instance, “How can I feel better, now? What can I learn from this?” Instead of, “Why do I feel so awful?” or, “Why does this always happen to me?”
- Think positive. Remember that thought has power. Our thoughts are impulses of energy and information that create molecules that may be healthy or unhealthy. Positive, pleasant thoughts, healthy molecules. Negative, sad thoughts, unhealthy molecules.
- Laughter can often be the best cure for stress because it releases the chemicals that do just that. Laughter is so effective at relieving stress that laughter meditation is taught for stress management. If you find you taking yourself too seriously, treat yourself to a good laugh.
You’ll be glad you did, and so will the people around you.
- Meditation. There are many forms of meditation that involve finding quiet time to reflect and plan. This is especially effective when it’s done before starting the business day. It time allows, add the evening meditation, as well. Meditation rejuvenates the mind and body. Twenty minutes of meditation can be equivalent to three or more hours of sleep.
Today, stress is not optional; it comes with the territory. To thrive and not just survive, our goal must be to understand stress, manage it, and most of all, respect its power. Successfully managing the stress in your life can enable you to achieve new heights. Failing to manage stress can lead to devastating consequences. Either way, the choice is ours. We can effectively manage stress or stress will manage us.
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