Stress is a critical part of the human experience. It’s your body’s reaction to extreme environmental changes, a heightened sense of danger, or emotional anxiety. Your body has three ways of dealing with stress: fight, flight or freeze. All of these can be good, if you’re in the path of an oncoming car, need a boost of adrenaline for a sporting competition, or you are suddenly face-to-face with a grizzly bear.
Stress reactions have also been shown to be beneficial in business situations — in small doses. A recent study even states that short periods of stress can increase a person’s cognitive functions, resulting in brain power improvements. As long as we’re able to channel stress to solve problems, the body’s stress reactions can help us focus, get more done, and think more clearly.
However, stress can take a major toll on your body and your work when it’s not well-managed. We’ve all seen comparison pictures of presidents before and after their term in office. Many presidents have physically aged ten years in four. We’ve witnessed people who have broken the law in their attempt to get ahead. You might gain weight, start supplementing your tired body with caffeine, and calm your racing mind with sleeping pills. Long periods of stress do incredible damage to your mind, body, and spirit.
So where is the balance between healthy amounts of stress and deadly? The key lies in finding periods of low or no stress so your body can relax and recover. To manage and relieve stress, you first have to identify its origin. Where is it coming from? A person? A project? Yourself? Unfocused panicking typically ends in a lot of wasted energy, increased frustration due to a lack of resolution, and a general loss of control within the brain. Once you have identified the cause of the stress, you can take steps to relieve it. Remember, your body has three built in ways for you to deal with stressful situations.
1. Fight – Go ahead and attack the problem. Target focused energy towards the goal of producing the desired result. Once you knock out the cause of the stress, your body and mind can relax and recover. For example, a salesperson could focus on doing the behaviors necessary to reach quota, like making the dials, setting appointments, and asking for referrals. Once the behaviors are done and the sales quota for the day is attained, then the salesperson can head home knowing the work is done, without the stress of unfinished business on the mind. This feeling of accomplishment transfers the energy from long-term stress into short-term motivation to achieve your goal, which reduces wasted energy spent on worrying.
2. Flight – Take breaks, rest, recover, and celebrate the small victories. To manage stress, it’s important to occasionally step away and engage in activities to counter it. Dwelling in your stress and trying to force yourself to work through it will only make things worse. Taking breaks can sharpen your mind, emotionally and intellectually. For example, take a break from a difficult project and congratulate yourself and your team, on achieving small milestones in progress toward the goal. Breaks allow you to come back to the project with increased drive, a rested body, and a refreshed creative mind to finish out the project. Even a small break, or a calming distraction for your mind, can provide you with a clarity that can spark higher levels of performance. Talk a walk, grab lunch, watch a funny video. Sometimes walking away for a short time is the best course of action.
3. Freeze – The phrase “status quo,” originates from a Latin term meaning, “the existing state of affairs.” Keeping the status quo involves maintaining things within a neutral state. This freezing strategy can be extremely useful when you haven’t quite figured out the problem that is causing stress. It’s also helpful when any action could result in a painful risk if it fails. Instead, keeping the status quo helps you reduce the pressure of trying something new and avoids gut reactions and panicked decisions that can make things worse. Often you will still have to deal with the problem, but buying a bit of time can help with an all-around clearer view of your situation. Some problems will go away on their own, and other times, you had the right solution, you just didn’t give it time to work. Sometimes delaying an action or decision is the right course of action.
Extreme stress and panic are capable of blinding a person from being able to see the options available. However, with some time to reassess, the body and mind can adjust, and stress levels lower. Have you ever had an issue with which you saw no end, but after a night’s rest was easily solvable the next day? This epiphany is an example of freezing in practice.
Remember, stress is only helpful in small, quick doses. It should not overpower any happiness or sense of accomplishment you feel. Instead of staying stressed, use it to fight, flight or freeze and success will follow!