December is the busiest month of the year by far. With the looming holiday season, we have endless to-do lists: find the perfect gift for all of my loved ones, attend the many Christmas parties, visit all of my family and friends, etc. With all this hustle and bustle comes the big, fat, ugly ‘S’ word: STRESS, which can be a big, fat, ugly obstacle to our most important performance goals.
What is stress and why does it affect us so negatively? Despite what most people think, stress is not something out there, it is something in here. What this means is that stress is an internal response to an external situation. Not every external situation causes us to feel stress however. Only those which we perceive to be outside of our control trigger the stress response we call ‘fight or flight.’
The fight or flight response is quite literally that; the impulse to have to fight off a perceived threat or danger or to run away from it as quickly as we can. Both responses are our brain’s attempt to keep us safe and alive, which as I have mentioned in previous blogs, is its main gig. When some event occurs in our external environment which we have no control over, our brain feels threatened and thus, kicks into survival mode.
This is harmful to us on several different levels. The chaotic internal response we feel to stress is a frenzy of trapped energy. When we trigger the stress-response in our minds, our brain sends the fight or flight message to our bodies, which has a chain reaction: cortisol is released, adrenalin starts pumping, increasing our heart rate and thus making us breath heavier and faster. In the short term, this physiological response is designed to help us fight or flee for our lives. But how often do we do either one?
The problem we have with stress explains why 90% of all illness is correlated with high stress levels. We internalize the stress response instead of externalizing it and burning it off. The inner frenzy of trapped energy is what can negatively affect our health. Internalizing stress can lead to headaches, nausea, or even sleeplessness in the short term. In the long run, it can lead to more serious health issues like adrenal fatigue, ulcers or even heart problems.
Take a second to perform the following stress management exercise the next time you come face-to-face with the big, fat, scary ‘S’ word:
Step One: Identify that you are feeling stressed by checking your emotional pulse (paying attention to all the physical cues that indicate you are in a stress state is a great way to identify when you are stressed).
Step Two: Take a second to ‘Wipe the slate clean’ by breathing all the way up for a count of 3, holding it at the top for a count of 3, all the way down for a count of 3 and finally, holding it at the bottom for a count of 3 (counting your breath is an excellent way to neutralize the stress response by connecting your mental awareness to your physical state).
Step Three: Transition your thoughts onto something you can control (take a walk, focus on a project you are on top of or create an intention to act on something you can follow through on immediately).
Stress can be scary when left unchecked and without a tool to help you proactively manage it on contact. Commit to using the tool outlined above for the up and coming holiday season and watch your stress levels drop drastically. Remember, stress is a choice that you CAN control by reframing your thoughts. And when we can control something, we no longer feel stressed about it.
Until next time, make every performance count!