All work and no play can make Jack or Jill a basket case.
Most of us know that too much stress is bad for us, but it’s not quite so black and white. Research indicates that most people perform at their best and feel at their best when they are under some degree of pressure. However, once that pressure starts to increase to the point where it becomes overwhelming, performance begins to decline.
Ideally, we are meant to experience stress in short bursts as a response to threat. When this happens we experience what is called ‘autonomic arousal’ in our sympathetic nervous system. Our heart rate increases, our bodies are flooded with adrenalin, our mind becomes focused and our creativity switches on to give us the resources to deal with the threat. Once we have successfully defeated or escaped the problem, we go through a ‘comedown’ experience that can involve collapse, shaking, sighing and tiredness.
If the stress continues, our bodies go into a second-level response. We receive the continual input of a hormone called cortisol, which makes us irritable and aggressive. We also see others as hostile, we have trouble sleeping, suffer poor digestion and experience a range of health issues, such as high blood pressure and insulin resistance. Most importantly, our ability to focus and be creative is reduced.
Too much stress over a continued period of time leads to poor performance, health problems, anxiety and depression. A chronically stressed person is on the fast track to burnout.
There are several ways to help avoid burnout. Setting clear guidelines about how much work you take on is one. You can also work to specified hours and make sure you build some playtime into every week. You might feel guilty, but turn off your phone in the evenings or on weekends.
If you can’t go cold turkey without mobile, try it for just a few hours at a time. Without the distraction, you’ll find more time for the things you love.
Another way to manage stress is to plan your holidays. One weekend away from home each month and a mid-year break (or two) where you take four to five days to get away can make all the difference.
Stress can be dangerous – so take control before it takes control of you and ask yourself this question: what’s one thing you can change today to start lightening the load? Then you’re on your way.
What’s your outlet for managing stress? Share it with us over on the Optus Facebook page.