Today I was working with a client and was reminded again how important managing stress is. Not just because stress is, well, stressful, but because when we are under stress we can’t see the whole picture—we lose our ability to have perspective. We lose the capacity to use our strengths.
When we are under stress our ability to scan the world stops. Our fear-based-survival brain takes over and our visual and attentional focus narrows. We are only focused on whatever we perceive to be the root of our fear. Under stress we lack the ability to see around our world—to have any perspective—instead we become immersed in it—we go into the watery depths of our stress, and we can’t get back on the dock.
The problem is that we often don’t know that we have lost our perspective. That might be the number one problem of stress—it creeps up on us and takes over our brains and we don’t know how far along we are until we get really stuck or in trouble. It’s that proverbial frog in hot water problem: it often starts gradually enough that we don’t know we are in boiling water until it is too late.
It is a reminder that making stress management a part of your regular routine is important for so many reasons. Mindfulness, exercise, --anything that soothes, calms, relaxes, nourishes. Yes, it is good for your body and your mental health—but it is also good for all of the things that matter to you—your work, your relationships—the gifts you want to bring to the world. When you are stressed you can’t problem solve, you can’t see where your team is getting in its own way—you can’t use the knowledge and experience that you have gained along the way to do the things that are important to you.
It is also a reminder to have other people, other brains around you and get in the practice of giving and receiving feedback. When you are thrashing around in the water, often they have a better view of the situation. It can be hard sometimes to hear the other perspective, to take in feedback when you are stressed, but if you can remain open to it, it really can be a life buoy that pulls you back to the dock. So you can get out and away from your stress and bring your knowledge and vision back to the whole picture--back to a larger perspective.
So take time this week to do whatever you need to, to lower your stress levels. And take time this week to tap into other people's perspectives. These are two big resources for your resilience-- for your ability to be able to tap into your strengths and experience. Both offer a way to move from survival mode to bringing the best of yourself to any situation.
© 2014 Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD