From the cradle to the grave, life hands us stressful situations — so much so that we should consider stress to be an integral part of living a full life, rather than a nuisance to be avoided at all costs. Rather than ignoring stress, it can be healthier and even more productive to harness the energy that such trials create and direct it towards a more successful outcome.
Science backs this up: stress stimulates the brain to secrete ‘noradrenaline’, a chemical that improves neural connectivity, perhaps explaining why some of us perform so much better immediately before deadlines. It’s a difficult balance, though, and psychology also plays an important part.
When we are pushed too far, however, our bodies react by producing the steroid hormone, cortisol. This puts us in a hyper-alert state that increases our heart rate and even impacts the people around us. We are designed to detect cortisol production in others because that would save the lives of early humans.
But in fast-paced workplaces with high performance standards, we abuse this function which can lead to adrenal fatigue. Managers must check-in to be aware of the stress levels of individual employees and provide support when needed. A proactive management approach can allow employees to experience eustress (positive stress), without having them drift into debilitating distress.
‘Owning’ your stress – and the superpowers that come with it – requires a positive, proactive mindset. When a stressful situation arises, it’s vital to take control: to understand, plan and prioritize, and to direct that energy towards productivity rather than panic.
Take starting a new job. It can be a super stressful experience, but will feel a lot less intimidating if you’re fully prepared: research the company and the sector, set up Google alerts or Twitter lists to keep yourself abreast of developments in your particular industry. If you’re getting married, make time to sit down quietly and list your concerns. Throw yourself into the tasks you enjoy, delegate the rest and be sure to keep an open dialogue with all involved. And if you’re off on an adventure, research your destination(s), make to-do lists and get to work on them weeks ahead of your departure so that you’re not filling your last days at home with seemingly insurmountable tasks.
You may just want a quiet life, but there will always be dreams and desires tempting you to make improvements, and pursuing them needn’t involve destructive levels of anxiety. For advice on a few more such situations and how to make the most of them, check out this new infographic, take a deep breath — and face up to your fears.
Based in Chicago, Jennifer is the social media and content manager for NetCredit. She loves a good book, warm weather and exotic foods, which translates into a passion for traveling. She writes about productivity, management techniques and new and creative ways to be financially savvy. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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