Insights for High Stress Professions
What is stress? Stress is a demand placed on your body. Stress is also the non-specific response to those demands.
Stress is a good thing. Stress mobilizes energy so you can rally and overcome the challenge you are facing. Stress protects you from danger. If you’re getting chased by a cougar, the stress response helps you fight or escape from that cougar.
But stress management is a $13.9 billion industry. Stress is bad when it becomes chronic. We aren’t generally getting chased by cougars, but we are bombarded with stressors and irritants on a daily basis. It’s hard to escape stress. Not only that, we can turn our stress response just by thinking about something stressful. This makes it near impossible to stay away from stress triggers. We never really turn off our stress response anymore.
If we were a deer, and we were chased by a cougar, the stress response would kick in to help us escape the cougar. Once the cougar was gone, the stress trigger was gone, and our body can go through the natural reset process to bring us back to a non-stressed state. As humans, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to go through the natural reset process to bring us back to a balanced energy state because we are bombarded with stressors, we relive stressors, and we anticipate stressors.
Saying “the stress response” is still pretty vague. Let’s dig into what’s happening in our body with stress. Most of us are familiar with the fight or flight response, but it’s a little more nuanced with that. Polyvagal theory identifies three different branches of the stress response.
The newest development in our stress response evolved in primates. This branch emphasized the important of social cues and social interaction. When there’s a potential threat, we look around to see what others are doing, and this determines how we respond. If others don’t perceive a threat, we stay grounded, open and calm. Picture a small child that just fell. The child instinctually looks around to see how others reacted before they react. If we rush over with concern in our faces, it signals that what happened was bad and unsafe, and the child starts crying. If we don’t react, or we react with positive emotions, the child will generally stay calm.
The next branch of the stress response evolved with mammals. This branch is the traditional fight or flight response. When there’s a potential threat and we perceive ourselves as being able to handle this threat, our body mobilizes energy so we can fight or flee. Adrenaline kicks in, our respiration and heart rate increase, all so we can get more energy to our arms and legs. This response also turns off digestion, reproduction and our immune system, as these functions aren’t needed if we are currently being chased by a cougar. If we enter fight mode, we might feel anger, frustration, or irritation, and get fidgety with our hands. If we enter flee mode, we might feel anxiety, worry, panic or fear, and get fidgety with our legs.
The oldest branch of the stress response evolved with lizards. This branch is the freeze response. When there’s a potential threat that we perceive to be beyond our ability to fight or flee from, we enter the freeze mode. When we are in freeze mode our body shuts down and withdraws from external stimuli. It conserves energy, decreases blood pressure, and physically and/or emotionally isolates you. In this mode, we may feel numb, dissociated, withdrawn, trapped, shut down, depressed or hopeless.
In all my years learning about the stress response, I pictured freeze mode to be “deer in the headlights,” literally freezing up in an unhelpful way at an inopportune time. As a result, I never thought I spent much time in the freeze response. With this more nuanced understanding, I realized I spend a lot of time in freeze mode. When my stress level gets really high, I don’t want to talk to people, I numb, I avoid people and any non-essential activity, and I just want to wait it out until it gets better.
What’s really powerful about this deeper understanding of the stress response is the power our perception has over how the stress response impacts us.
What can we do with this information? Stay tuned for the next blog post where I’ll cover some strategies to impact the stress response.
NicheHacks, (2018, December 18). Stress Yourself Into This $13.9 Billion Dollar Niche That Has Millions Of People Frustrated For Relief. Retrieved from https://nichehacks.com/stress-niche/
Porges, S., (2011). The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation. W. W. Norton & Company.
#stress #stressmanagement #stressresponse
“Good Enough” means different things to different people. For some, it means you put your best effort in, and you’re ready to call that task done. For some, it’s the benchmark where you’re off the hook for trying any harder. For some, it’s when you give up and walk away. Regardless, it’s a really loaded term. Even these descriptions can be interpreted multiple ways. Good enough could mean you put in your very best effort, or it could mean you put in the very best of what you had that day, or it could mean you put in the very best effort of what you had to spare on that task.
For some, good enough is very freeing. It gives them a sense of satisfaction and the ability to move on, focusing their energy on different projects. For others, good enough is not freeing at all; good enough is a cop-out, a flimsy standard that excuses not putting your best effort into something.
I think we need to be better at embracing the idea of good enough. In order to do this, we need to redefine our understanding and standard of good enough. There are a few reasons we need to redefine this. Good enough can feel like it’s lowering our standards. It’s not. It means you met the mark and can move on.
If good enough means we put in our best effort, that’s great, only “best effort” is hard to measure. My best effort on a task is probably different than your best effort. But even within myself, my best effort on a task might change based on time, energy, competing priorities, etc. Is my best effort my all-out best effort? Is it the best effort of what I have to give that day? Is it my best effort of what I have to give that day if I ignore everything else? How can I use best effort as a benchmark for good enough if best effort isn’t constant?
Another reason to redefine our standard for good enough is Parkinson's Law. Parkinson's law states that work expands to fill the time allotted. At my old job, if I only had an hour to prepare for a training, I could spend that whole hour preparing, organizing my notes and reviewing timing. If I had a full day to prepare for a training, I could spend the whole day preparing, organizing my notes, rehearsing, reviewing the timing needed for activities, etc. I had a core set of things I did to prepare, beyond that, I could spend a little or a lot of time preparing, but beyond those core things, the rest was just busywork. If you have weeks to spend writing a paper, you could spend weeks writing that paper. If you only have tonight to write that same paper, you could write it tonight. It should be noted, that shrinking the time window for a task can result in rushed and sloppy work, but the point I want to make with Parkinson's Law is that while chasing “good enough,” I could spend a little time or a lot of time. Based on how much time I have, my standard for good enough might need to change. But If I allow it, chasing good enough can take way more time than is appropriate for the task.
Finally, and this is what I try to focus on the most when defining what good enough means to me, is diminishing returns. There’s a point in my productivity where suddenly it’s a lot harder to get the same results. For example, in school, I knew about how much effort I needed to put into a class to get the grade I wanted. I could put more effort in to get a higher grade, but it would have been an extraordinary amount more time and effort to get the extra few points. Proportionally, it was a substantial amount more effort for only a slightly higher grade. This turning point, where it suddenly takes way more effort to yield the same increase in outcome, is the point of diminishing returns. This is the point where I try to place the good enough mark. I could do better, but it’s not worth the extra hustle to get to that mark.
I like working hard on things I care about. The more I reflect, the less I like hustling. To me, hustling is running around busily spending energy that doesn’t necessarily yield a better result. It’s spending energy to prove my worth instead of knowing I am enough, regardless of how I do, what gets done, and what doesn’t get finished.
If you find yourself hustling for the extra results, ask yourself two questions:
When evaluating the big things in your life, it’s important to remember there’s a time to rally, and there’s a time to move on to the next gig. There are things in your life that are worth the extra effort to strive for your best. But there are things in your life that aren’t worth your extra effort. It’s important to determine what these are ahead of time before you get stuck hustling on the hedonic treadmill.
Basco, M. R. (2000). Never good enough: How to use perfectionism to your advantage without letting it ruin your life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Malone, K., Gonzalez, S., Horowitz-Ghazi, A., & Goldmark, A. (2018, November 21). Episode 877: The Laws Of The Office. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/11/19/669395064/episode-877-the-laws-of-the-office
Parkinson, C. N. (1958). Parkinson's law: Or, The pursuit of progress. London: John Murray.
Schwartz, B. (2004). The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. New York: Harper Perennial.
#goodenough #satisficer #besteffort #productivity #diminishingreturns #hustling #haveitall #haveitall
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