Stress – managing nervous system response

Whether you’re changing your job, attending a tricky meeting or presenting to a large group of people, that feeling of sweaty palms, thumping heart in your chest and throbbing headache are all signs that you are becoming stressed.  Any event in life will rarely cause us to be stressed, but combined with other decisions you are faced with that day , the impact of any event on another event in your life and everything else going on around you, the combined impact creates an increased level of nervous activity, manifesting itself as stress.

Stress is bad for your health, likely to result in less than optimal decisions, overly impulsive actions and regretful outcomes.  From a health perspective, the surge of hormones also takes its toll, leaving us tired and deflated.  So whilst it might be impossible to stop every potential stress trigger occurring in your life, by looking at your body’s response to stress, we can lessen the impact.  With some very sound advice from my career coach, Amanda Visage, here’s five things to do when you feel your stress levels rising.

Regain composure – Stressful situations can often trigger the “flight or flight” response, where we prepare to go into battle or run away as fast as we can.  This basic animal extinct allow animals to react to life-threatening situations, but for humans in the modern world, can result in friction, rash behaviour or avoidance of decision-making.  When you feel the stress levels getting too high, breath deeply 5 times to slow your heart rate, give yourself time to react and reset your next step.

Brain distraction – Ongoing stress from work or family pressures, or worries about finances and health are equally detrimental to our health.  This often results in sleepless nights, leading to excessive tiredness and an ability to disengage and switch off.  The harder we try to forget the stress trigger, the more we think about it.  Rather than try to “force” relaxation, distracting your brain with other things can be more beneficial in the de-stress process.  Following online mindfulness course, learning a new language, jigsaw puzzles and crosswords are all ways to distract the brain and create a a sense of achievement, giving your brain a break from the stress trigger.

Physical countering mental – I’ve previously written about the interesting topic of emotional debt, espoused by my boss, Vasco Pedro. This is a real cause of stress, and counter-productive to team collaboration and success.  By acknowledging that through intensive working together on challenging problems will result in a “glut” of energy, we can spot signs of stress related to this trigger, and act accordingly.   Whether it’s a quick lunchtime walk, a weekend cycle ride, a bout of vigorous exercise at the gym, or as we do here at Unbabel, and head to the beach for a healthy surfing session, you can work off physically the stress that was triggered mentally.

Hold yourself to account – Whilst stress isn’t always our fault, it is our job to deal with it.  For those like me who react on impulse, think “from the heart” and don’t hold back, sometimes our stress spills over onto others and becomes their stress.  This is often not what we want to happen, and can often have a more negative effect.  Two people feeling stressed due to one person’s situation is counter-intuitive.  Whilst it’s important to discuss stressful situations, and avoid bottling up stress, we need to be respectful and considerate of those around us.  To ensure that you are owning and managing your stress, ask a buddy how you handled a tricky situation and seek 360 feedback on a regular basis to ensure you are holding yourself to account.

Slow down – Stress at times causes people to freeze , others stress response (in a similoar way) becomes involuntary.  In these scenarios, our behaviour can appear as irrational or out of character, because instincts kick in and take over rational behaviour.  In the most extreme circumstances, this may work fine, but in an office or family situation, it’s far from ideal.  As with the “fight or flight” stress response, by slowing down, we can regain control and manage our response in our preferred way.  When stress makes us frenetic, slow down by – introducing pauses, which also allow others to digest and you to reflect before acting.

In stressful situations, it’s easier said than done to change our responses, so learning to see the signs of your stress levels going up is the way to reduce negative impact of stress on you and those around you.  Take a moment to consider when you last responded under stress – was there a better way to handle the scenario, and by taking one of the actions above, could you have changed the outcome?

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