When the inevitable question about my strengths and weaknesses came up during a job interview early in my career, I used to share how I could navigate stressful situations with ease. The weakness I offered was my reluctance to delegate. “I had high standards,” I said. I prefer things done to my standards.
Presumably, they liked the answer because I always got the job. Years later, during a particularly stressful time when I was juggling a specific hairy project based out of the UK and the US, alongside the unexpected death of my father. Three months later, my relationship broke down, and I found myself homeless, too. It was a stressful and crazy time.
Here’s the crazy thing. I kept on working, spinning the plates, and pretending I was okay. I needed a cup of coffee to get going in the morning and a glass or two of wine at night to calm me down. It was my normal. Weekends involved a lot of alcohol as I attempted to numb that gnawing emptiness inside of me.
Then my project was finished, and I suddenly had time. I realized feeling worn out wasn’t related to jetlag or to my project. I still needed a cup of coffee to get going and a couple of glasses of wine at night to relax. It wasn’t that I was good at dealing with stress. I denied its existence. I was wired, and I was tired. I was driving down denial avenue towards a town called burnout with no idea where I was going.
What is stress?
Stress is a psychobiological response to excessive pressure. Nobody is immune to it. It’s normal and it’s natural. We’re designed to rise to the occasion, and when the pressure subsides, we rebuild, replenish, and recover. This is the nature of resilience – being able to ride that wave.
Just because we’re able to keep a lid on it, it doesn’t mean we’re dealing with it. It sometimes means we’re burying it. It can have serious repercussions on your relationships, your mental health, and your physical health.
Researchers have found that long-term stress lowers immunity and creates a state of low-grade chronic inflammation. They suggest that this combination may be the precursor to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, autoimmune conditions, and mental disorders like anxiety and depression. These conditions are on the rise.
how to manage stress
Many experts say there’s too much stress in this world. But the research says we can manage the depth of our stress response, and therefore the impact it has on our health, by our perception of whether we can handle what’s before us.
There’s a choice we can each make in the moment. Researchers describe the stress response as coming from our decision on whether we can change and adapt.
Acknowledge your stress
The choice to choose to find a new way instead of feeling overwhelmed removes the detrimental effect of the stressor. But pretending you’re not stressed removes the opportunity for you to make that choice in that moment. The good news is that you get to make a new choice every moment. Even though we can change how we respond to things, there will still be events and situations that are stressful.
recharge after a stressful event
Give yourself the gift of recovering from that stressful event. We get burned out when we navigate from one stressful event to another. Imagine you had a bank account that had a nice healthy balance and all you did was make withdrawals? Your bank account wouldn’t be able to support your lifestyle. It’s the same with your body.
You’re born with your own energy balance. You add to it when you laugh, love, and eat nutrient-dense foods or move your body with joy. You withdraw from it when you’re stressed. When you’re:
• when you have a cigarette,
• or when you sit at your desk unmoving for more than an hour.
Your energy bank account has deposits and withdrawals in it all day, every day, and through the night as well.
It’s okay to go through a stressful event. Make a few withdrawals and deposit more than you take out. You can’t beat stress by pretending it’s not there. It’s affecting your health, your vitality, and your well-being.
adapt to your stress
The trick is to ride that roller coaster. Acknowledge when you’re stressed and get down in the weeds with it.
You can always adapt, even if it’s just a little bit.
This is your life. You are the sovereign of your energy field.