How to Find the Right Dose of Stress
By Sandy Schroeder
Some stress is unavoidable. When the storm hits, we just have to hunker down and muddle on through, but there are other situations that might go better if we figure out what we are doing.
Art Markman, PhD, professor of Psychology and Marketing at University of Texas at Austin, takes a look at how this works in FastCompany. He says, “Most people have a sweet spot in terms of stress, or what psychologists refer to as arousal. Too little, and you won’t be able to generate enough energy or motivation to work. Too much, and you’ll crumple under the pressure, unable to focus on the task at hand.”
So how do we figure out where we are? Are we running too fast, or just barely moving under our current stress loads? Markman suggests avoiding these three pitfalls as we figure it out.
Hiding Out When Stress Hits
Too many of us lose our focus and isolate ourselves when stress increases. Instead of reaching out to others who know what it’s like or who really want to help, we scurry off to the nearest cave to figure it all out. The next time you are hit by a big challenge, make the effort to connect with colleagues, buddies or family members who may be able to help. You may be amazed at how much easier it is to snap back and move on.
Giving Up Everything to Solve the Problem
If you have watched someone do this, or done it yourself, you know how it plays out. Special plans may be put on hold, family activities shrink, and work hours go up as everyone and everything is used to solve the immediate problem. A key issue here is establishing what kind of emergency this is. If it is one of many that just keep coming, then the people involved actually need to take breaks to breathe a little and survive. If it is an isolated event that is serious and needs solving right now, then it makes sense to give it all of the time and attention available.
Losing Your Balance
When stress represents a lot of loss, it’s easy to blow it out of proportion. It’s tempting to picture all of the negative things that could happen instead of sitting down and taking a hard look at the problem. Whatever it is, a crisis at home, in your community, or in your job, the calmer you can be the better solutions you may be able to create. Markman suggests accepting the worst imaginable outcome rather than struggling to avoid it. When you analyze that outcome you can think about ways to cope, creating calmness and reassurance instead of ongoing panic.
Learning how to handle stress instead of letting it handle you can make a huge difference. Stay calm and keep refocusing until you figure it out.
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