Is working well under stress one of your strong points? These days it may feel like a necessity. We sometimes talk about it today like a badge of honor to proclaim how good we are at handling pressure and multi-tasking.
We’ve been taught that it’s a great quality to be able to “perform well under stress” and “manage multiple priorities.” Employers seek these traits, and we often think we need to develop these skills.
Here’s The Truth
Nobody works best under stress! Period. Not in the long-term.
In the short term, your body’s stress response kicks in and pumps your body with extra stress chemicals (including adrenaline and cortisol)to help you complete the task at hand. However in the long run, excess stress chemicals can build up and create physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.
Accumulated stress can contribute to manifestation of physical illnesses. Sometimes getting sick is the only way we give our bodies a rest, so eventually the body gets sick when it realizes this is the only way we’re going to let it slow down.
Ever notice that when you live with the belief that you work best under stress, you always seem to have plenty of stress to work in? People prone to anxiety have often pushed themselves again and again over a long period of time. They tend to be unaware or minimize the effects of cumulative stress.
What Can Happen?
Besides lowering your immunity, the neuroendocrine and/or neurotransmitter systems in the brain may become imbalanced and malfunction, causing panic attacks, generalized anxiety, depression, or other problems. Other systems in the physical body may respond to chronic stress and anxiety with chronic illnesses such as: IBS (irritable bowel), GERD and acid reflux, various digestive problems, ulcers, headaches and migraines, or high blood pressure.
The key is to recognize and acknowledge stress as it occurs so you can be proactive and take action to do something to alleviate the accumulating stress and anxiety. Be careful not to ignore symptoms of stress and anxiety by justifying: “I work best under stress.”
Check out the Stress Symptoms Checklist to increase your awareness of the signs of too much stress.
Thoughts Create Stress and Anxiety
If you believe “I work best under stress,” check to see whether you may also hold some of these related beliefs (especially sub-consciously):
- I should never make mistakes.
- If I want the job done right, I better do it myself.
- If something needs to be done, I can’t rest easy until it’s done.
- I should never be late.
- I should never be tired.
- I’m supposed to be perfect.
- I have to be the best at what I do.
- Failure is unacceptable.
- I should always be generous and unselfish.
- I should be able to solve every problem quickly.
- I should always aim to please others.
- I should be the perfect [fill-in the blank: partner, husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, employee, friend, person…]
All of these thoughts and beliefs are associated with anxiety and can trigger your body’s stress response. Notice the all-or-nothing nature of these beliefs. That kind of extreme thinking sets the bar too high and leaves you no middle ground. These beliefs set you up for pressure, self-judgment, and feeling like you’re not being good enough if you can’t measure up to the extreme. Watch for your language like “Always” and “Never” and “Should” in your words, thoughts, and beliefs.
Shift Your Thoughts
Shifting your thoughts and beliefs is the most powerful ways to effectively manage stress and anxiety. Be willing to allow yourself a middle ground. Find thoughts that are more flexible. See if you can be more gentle and less