What’s really happening when we perceive a threat?
The Fight or Flight response is well researched and worth reviewing. First of all, this is an important self defense instinct. We respond to a stimulus to determine if it’s a threat. Our instinct to react protects us from possible danger. Nothing wrong with that. But… most office activities are not life threatening. At the office, we invent abstract, complex beliefs around business events. Then, we add heaps of drama to create urgency and importance. We imagine a poor performance as a threat to our reputation. We worry about job security or profitability. So we fight back. We fight an imaginary threat and we Get’er Done!
In a very simplistic model (so as not to increase stress), two main hormonal events take place when we perceive a possible threat:
- Cortisol is released. Cortisol helps reduce pain and inflammation. It also causes the liver to release sugar quickly into the blood stream. So now we can move quickly and we won’t feel pain. But there is a cost. Our immune system shuts down temporarily. Why waste energy fighting a virus when a possible life and death event is about to happen.
- Adrenaline and Oxytocin are released. Adrenaline increases our heart rate, sweat, and blood pressure. Oxytocin causes us to seek connection and contact. We are stimulated to give and receive help.
So now we’re pumped with hormones and ready to get busy.
The stress response helps drive us to complete that financial report by the deadline or suffer social consequences. To mitigate those consequences, we work hard and prepare for the presentation or speech. In this case stress helps us. It may be tough slugging but we nail it! We achieve our goal.
In other situations, too much stress can paralyze us and we choose not to make that dreaded speech or deal with that important problem. Rather than fight, we avoid the issue. We run away. Over time, opportunities pass us by and we do not achieve our goals, leading to more stress.
Too much stress can creep up on us. Even though we use it to drive us to the top of the winners podium, our victory lap may be short lived. Long term, our immune systems can be damaged, exposing us to all kinds of nasty problems (viral attacks, abnormal cell growth, headaches, body pains, fatigue…) Fears can grow into phobias. Anxiety attacks can appear out of nowhere. Even with a good attitude towards stress (read my previous blog on Reframing Stress), over time, high quantities of stress can simply wear us down. We burn out. In a worst case scenario, we just die prematurely.
And Now… The Good News!
There are lots of ways to manage and reduce stress. Start by reframing your attitude towards business.
Eliminate the idea of failure. Replace it with the idea that there is no such thing as failure. There is only feedback. Use the feedback to get wiser, stronger and apply it to future activities. This will lead eventually to success.
Create inspiration and work towards fulfilling your ultimate purpose.
See your goals, challenges, problems and tasks as opportunities and not threats. Do not be a fighter. Rather, be inspired to make a difference.
Once you have reframed your business attitude, your stress levels will drop. To manage any lingering residue, start attending to these simple life skills:
- Physical exercise
- Adequate sleep
- Deep breathing
- Proper nutrition
Beyond these obvious life skills, there are many ways to improve the quality of your work life and reduce stress to a manageable level.
Here are a few fun and easy ways to improve your work day:
- Hug more. Kind, gentle human touch causes the body to release more oxytocin and this relaxes muscles and stimulates tissue regeneration. It also causes us to seek and give help. Do this respectfully of course. Create a culture that encourages appropriate, healthy human contact.
- Laugh more. Laughter reduces stress and increases feelings of joy. It reduces cortisol, reduces adrenalines and increases endorphins. It improves blood flow. Improves social communications and social intelligence.
- Surround yourself with upbeat, joyful triggers. Photos, colours, plants, music, furniture, etc… You are a business leader! Design your work space to meet all your human needs.
- Hire a Therapist. Regular interactions with a trained therapist can help organize your thoughts and feelings for optimal productivity and balance. Therapists can also help you release traumas, fears, phobias, limiting beliefs and delusions.
- Massage. Deep massage can loosen muscles and soft tissue. It will stimulate lymph systems to drain and flow. Massage improves blood circulation and stimulates nerve regeneration. I highly recommend Shiatsu massage which is a Japanese technique to rebalance the energy meridians.
- Commit to hobbies. Dance, sing, travel, crafts, sports, arts, journalling, pottery, woodwork etc… Balance your work life with other interests. Think of it as cross-training for business fitness.
- Take power naps. A short 15 minute nap can reset all those stress activated glands. More than 20 minutes may take you into a full sleep cycle which may not be appropriate in an office setting. Power napping is a skill so be patient. I recommend you practice in the mid afternoon. Work with your ultradian cycles and rest at your lowest energy point in the day.
For serious deeper impact I recommend these activities.
The following have known therapeutic benefits and reveal much about your inner self. A clear sense of your highest values will clarify your purpose. Purpose driven activities require less stress to accomplish.
- Mindfulness meditation. The good news is you don’t have to join a monastery or live in a cave in the Himalaya. I took a ten day course in Vipassana which is a Buddhist approach to mindfulness. There are many other forms too. I left the Vipassana retreat with clarity, insight and relief from toxic behaviours.
- Yoga. There are lots of yogis and places to practice. You can devote your life to the study of Yoga and simultaneously, be a high producer in all other chosen fields. Yoga is a great complimentary discipline.
- Qi Gong. Qi Gong involves gentle movements, sounds and mindful awareness. It’s easy on the body and can be done anywhere.
- Therapeutic Trance. A quick self-hypnosis session can relieve stress, recalibrate on your purpose and improve your creativity. This is my personal favourite and something I do everyday. I strive to live a generative, purposeful life and Therapeutic Trance is the most efficient approach I know for self discovery and transformative change.
These are only a sampling of the ways to manage stress. What do you do to cope? How do you manage stress? What approaches have you tried? What would you like to try in the future? Please share your ideas by writing a comment or send me a note. I really want to know what is working for you and what is not.
I hope this blog was helpful. Thank you for taking the time to read it.