The Trick to Dealing with High Stress
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
If you operate online, you are at risk of burnout. If you are running a business, managing a team, or just starting your career – the stress is real. It’s baked into our culture now. And it has been repeatedly linked to chronic disease, depression and “dropping out”. Just accepting it is a recipe for disaster. Choosing to deal with high stress instead is critically important for our wellbeing and our resiliency. How we choose to do that makes the difference between folding under the pressure, or rising above the storm.
Think about a typical day. We take our Smartphones with us wherever we go. We work late hours. We miss family events – and even when we’re physically present at one, we’re outside on the back porch, hurriedly checking sales on our mobiles or giving instructions to our teams.
But let’s get one thing straight: It’s not the amount of work we do that causes burnout. It’s that feeling that you are never ‘off duty.’ It’s having your attention permanently divided between personal demands and demands at work. Competition is fiercer than ever. You’re under constant siege by a million distractions. When you give into it, it can feel far easier to sit at your desk and be busy than take a whole afternoon off.
And on top of that, there is an overwhelming pressure to achieve and succeed (whatever that means!)
Those minutes spent being reactive add up with alarming speed. Before you know it, the day’s gone and you’re working well into the evening. It’s easy to see why so many leaders are stressed out, and not as successful as they had hoped to be. It feels like a trap. And it is.
Taking care of our minds, bodies, and spirits will not only help our businesses but cause us to feel happier and more successful, too.
But why can’t we ever seem to do this? What is stopping us from nurturing ourselves well enough to finally achieve everything we dream of – including a healthy, well-rested body and a mind sparkling with creativity and joy?
Step One: Why self-care keeps slipping from your grasp (and how to stop the slide)
You’ve tried to practice a regular self-care routine so many times. You’ve booked a day at the spa, or taken the day off to go to the beach. You’ve started to eat more healthily. You joined a gym. Yet here you are, back with the same old habits.
You haven’t been to the gym for weeks.
You canceled the spa date.
You ate leftover apple pie for breakfast with your morning coffee.
The spinach you bought for your smoothie is wilting in the fridge.
You got to bed at two in the morning. Again.
Why can’t we stop?
It all boils down to two things:
The human tendency to take the path of least resistance
When we create habits born of distraction and overwhelm, we make neural pathways that are fatally easy to follow. And follow them we do!
There’s another basic human tendency at play too. We don’t like to force ourselves to do things that bore us, stress us or make us feel overwhelmed. The neural pathways we create are pleasant ones – or at least easy to slide down.
So why beat your head against the wall, trying to “force” yourself to take the thorny, unpleasant paths? Answer: You shouldn’t! At least, not blindly.
Tasks that seem dreary, dull, stressful, overwhelming, or too demanding feel that way for a reason. Your job is to figure out that reason and decide what action to take: NOT force yourself to do the task! When you get out of that well-worn “guilt/evasion” pattern and take an objective look at the problem, it becomes easier to weight your thinking towards a better solution. If a task feels stressful, there’s a reason.
Whenever we take a non-productive, self-sabotaging ‘easy way’ out, we are usually operating out of guilt or emotion. But it’s no real solution to force yourself to do tasks that drain you: First, you need to:
Identify your feelings
Figure out why you are feeling those emotions
Decide what your most logical, realistic action should be
If you don’t take charge of your feelings and lose the guilt, your brain shortcuts. It jumps right over the logic of the situation, slides right over the realities, and crawls into a familiar, pleasant hole to hide in.
Awareness and acknowledgment are the first steps to stopping this dis-empowering slide.
Step two: Seven signs of burnout you need to take seriously
How can you tell when you are on the fast track to burnout? The signs are different for everyone, but there are seven common ones you shouldn’t ignore – particularly if you are experiencing three or more of the following effects:
Feeling scattered, confused, “brain-fogged”
Feeling jaded, irritable and cynical
Feeling “wiped out” all the time
Suffering from persistent, regular insomnia
Everything work-related takes twice as long to complete
Your social life is non-existent
You are starting to suffer from health problems
If you feel you are always “on the clock” or “on duty” – if you can’t relax without a compulsion to check your mobile or go finish a task – then you are skating on the dark side of burnout.
So, what are you going to do about this?
Step three: Six signs of stress—and how to permanently defuse it
By far the most insidious – and the most dangerous – sign of burnout is stress.
Stress is what causes insomnia. It clouds your thinking processes and your decisions. Stress prompts you to eat unwisely (or not eat at all).
Worst of all, it affects your health: All aspects of your health.
Prolonged stress operates on your brain similar to the way that post-traumatic stress disorder does: By flooding the mind with cortisol, the “fight or flight” chemical. In his article, “Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity,” author Christopher Bergland goes on to discuss a study that proves chronic stress triggers stem cells to malfunction.
It’s pretty scary reading, and that’s before we’ve even gotten to what stress does to your body. More inflammation, bowel disease, chest pain, migraines, and other unpleasant health conditions go hand-in-glove with stress.
And stress is the twin of burnout!
It’s vital not to let yourself slide into a downward spiral. These sort of crashes happen when you say things to yourself like, “I’ll have waffles and syrup for breakfast. I’m tired; I’m down, I need a treat. I’ll start my smoothies again tomorrow.”
You guessed it: Before you know it, your Magic Bullet is collecting dust at the back of a cupboard, you’ve gained thirty pounds, and you’re drinking coffee after coffee (ignoring your protesting gut) in a vain attempt to get some “energy.”
Then the migraines start. Then the back-aches. Well, you get the picture.
But we’re not finished with stress and burnout yet. Here’s what it does to your business!
Step Four: What to do when success keeps slipping from your fingers
A year ago, you confidently expected to be much further ahead in your business or career than you are now. You see peers race past you, but hey, they’re the cream of the crop—the attractive extroverts blazing confidence.
But then the tortoises that used to be in your pool crawl out and get to the finish line. The coach who said she’d like to write a book “one day” suddenly publishes a whole series, while you’re still stuck at chapter three on yours. The brand-new coach asking you for advice last year launches a fifteen-thousand-dollar mastermind event in Hawaii. The introverted competitor suddenly gets interviewed for Forbes magazine.
You try to squash down the thought that this is getting… embarrassing.
So, why does success keep slipping from your fingers? The most common reason can often be a massive schism between your ultimate dream goal and the daily actions you take. If you don’t realize that steps need to move you along the right path toward that goal, you’ll meander all over and never get any closer.
Here’s how to get past that particular demon:
Define your goal. Be specific.
Get in touch with your feelings about that goal as you brainstorm it. Your emotions are a reliable indicator of what is really going on with you. Is this goal really what you want or are you setting your sights on what is expected in your niche? If you are happy coaching only five clients a week and you don’t need more income (though of course, we all love to have extra cash) then stop beating yourself up for not being the next Oprah Winfrey or Steve Jobs, and start enjoying your life. Drop the endless chasing of more clients that causes you stress and procrastination.
Hold yourself accountable for what you are doing every day.
Holding yourself accountable means tracking every action you take – or don’t take. Get out of your comfort zone and use that journal you have that’s collecting dust. If you don’t like writing (who doesn’t like writing?) record notes to yourself on your iPhone or Android. Check your figures daily. Make a budget and keep track of what you spend.
Check your Facebook and other social media metrics.
Track how much time you spend drumming up new clients per week.
Check your schedule. Are you making time on your calendar for the meetings and activities that are a priority? Or are you allowing someone else to control your valuable time?
Check your progress and your choices. Was that fifth course on “How to Make Amazing Videos for Your Clients” or latest brainstorm session on the initiative that is going nowhere a wise investment?
Be ruthless with your inbox.
Unsubscribe from emails that somehow sucker you into buying stuff you don’t want (in spite of having been let down every time you bought a product off that person). Especially when you never use what you buy.
Unsubscribe from competitors and influencers that you never, ever have time to read.
Get your assistant (what? You don’t have one? Let’s look at that.) to organize your inbox(es) for you. Handling a distracting inbox is not a money-making activity for you. Your assistant will, in the long run, SAVE you more money when you pay for their time, because you’ll be free to MAKE money while they’re doing that task. And most likely (we hope) your time is worth a lot more than your assistant.
When you’ve made yourself accountable for not only every minute of your work day but also every task or activity you partake in during your work time, you will gain a stunningly clearer picture of how much money you are making or losing on activities and tasks (and procrastination). You will be able to see whether or not spending time writing proposals for the client that never buys, or doing work that you really need a new team member to handle, is really moving you forward, or keeping you stuck in a cycle of busyness, without really growth.
Not being accountable and tracking your progress towards a goal is somewhat like being a little kid with a bag of candy: Candies she pops into her mouth without even thinking about them. It’s always a shock to that type of little kid when the bag is empty. She was so busy watching TV with her mind on other things that she didn’t even taste the flavors.
She didn’t know that there were only ten candies in the bag or give a thought to the fact that she had eaten four the day before. She just started chowing while watching her favorite show, and ka-boom! Candies gone. No more candies for the rest of the week.
You’re always putting out fires and doing what other people want because you don’t have a clear picture of where you are, what needs doing by you and what the consequences can be if you stop being reactive.
Children are reactive. Teenagers are reactive.
But we are all grown up now. CEOs, executives and managers need to be pro-active if they ever want to move toward their goal.
So, start tracking everything you do and everything you touch in your workday.
For each task, ask yourself, “Is this task billable? Is it bringing in actual income? Can I outsource it for less than I lose in billable income when I do it myself?”
For each activity, get into the habit of asking yourself, “Is performing this activity moving me toward my goal? Is it even related to what I want so badly to achieve?”
This type of awareness not only breaks the cycle of wheel-spinning, but it also gives you a really clear picture of what’s essential and what is not. It gives you a clear view of your actual situation – and what you need to do about it.
Being accountable for your own time and business diminishes anxiety and helps you make decisions. Being responsible for your own time and business builds confidence and increases self-respect.
Step five: Why you’re stuck in distraction (and how to get out)
One thing you’ll notice when you track your day is how quickly you can allow yourself to be distracted.
The reason people keep procrastinating and falling back into distraction usually goes hand-in-glove with performance anxiety. We turn to our friends in our Facebook Group for reassurance when we’ve just had a difficult session with an obstructive client. We play “just one game of Candy Crush” to diffuse the knot in our gut when we pick up that list of potential clients to cold-call. We start checking our text messages because it’s more rewarding than going through what we spent last week online.
But what if you take all those tedious tasks and give them to a team member or to a VA to handle? Yes, you can even find a VA who relishes setting up complicated shopping carts – or cold-calling potential clients for you.
It’s your life. No one says you have to suffer doing things you hate doing. Drop them, automate them or outsource them.
Step Six: How to get back on track and claim the life you dream of
It’s time to look forward to the life you genuinely want. Deciding what that is takes time and introspection – something you can’t create if you are always reacting to the activities that are stressing you out.
So, take active steps to change your habits and create new neural pathways; ones that lead to a destination you like.
Above all, don’t over-complicate things. Strip out from your life anything that is no longer working for you or moving you toward your goal. Also, divest yourself of, or reduce contact with anyone who doesn’t help build you up.
Define your exact priorities and get rid of all the stuff that other people dump on you that are not aligned with your priorities.
Learn to start saying “no” … and do it without offering explanations or excuses. Don’t apologize for saying ‘no.’ A simple, “That won’t work for me right now” or “I can’t do that on Monday. My plate is full” will suffice. (The horrible thing about giving people reasons: Those who habitually use you will see them as objections to be overcome – i.e., they will argue with you till you give in.)
It’s built-in to the human psyche to live with purpose and to make a difference. When we don’t live with purpose and feel as if we’re making a difference, we are unhappy. We don’t feel fulfilled.
When you are a slave to distraction and overwork, that is not living with purpose or making much of a difference, and your body knows it. You can fool your conscious mind, but you can’t fool your body. Remember that.
So, what is your purpose? What brings you such intense joy that time flies? What makes you feel at the end of a workday as if you made a difference?
What one thing did you need to achieve today that you managed to fulfill?
Here’s the big secret: If you achieve only one meaningful goal today, that’s enough for a day’s work. You can shut off now. Take well-deserved downtime.
Dream big and begin small. But start. Today. In order to help you, here is a link to my Discover Your Personal Purpose Workbook.