Is it true that high achievers don’t experience stress? Of course not! Successful leaders experience stress on many levels – about their jobs, about their families, about themselves. They are known for carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. That is a code for stress.
Stress is created by our reaction to a situation. When we experience a stressor, our body releases chemicals – like cortisol and adrenaline – to help your body respond to the situation. It’s the fight or flight response.
And stress is natural. It’s a trait that’s baked into us to help us survive. Problem is that stress is designed for short bursts. When we experience a perceived threat, stress kicks in. When the threat goes away, it’s gone.
The challenge high achievers face is that they can perceive so many threats… job responsibilities, bills, relationships, change, starting something new, giving up something old… the list goes on… With that lengthy list can come prolonged stress.
Why do those things cause us stress? Nothing on that list is a threat to our survival. It all comes down to our perception. Perception is the based picture that you have in your mind about a situation. Largely based on past experiences, that picture will determine your thoughts, emotions and physiological feelings.
Here’s an example: you get a text from someone… anyone really… that says “Do you have a minute to talk?” You get a picture of them telling you some bad news that will put more things on your plate to deal with. That mental picture is not without good reason… you’ve received similar texts in the past and each time bad news is on the other side.
Congrats… that’s stress!
Here’s the scoop. What makes it stressful isn’t the situation, it’s the response to the situation. The perception we have about that text message is what creates the stress. It’s not the message itself.
This is good news! It means if stress is created from our perceptions, that means we can release it by shifting our perspectives. And we can prevent stress from taking over our lives with stress reducing techniques.
If you’re experiencing stress, you can use these “in the moment” stress relief strategies:
Mindfulness: Get in the moment and in touch with what you’re thinking and feeling currently. When you do that, you disassociate with the stress. You can look at it more objectively. I recommend the app Insight Timer for meditations & mindfulness.
Exercise: Workout, walk, get moving. Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine which are stress reducers. Plus, it’s a pattern interrupt. When you feel the stress, exercise allows you to physically get out of the situation and gets you to focus on something else.
Think Differently: Look at the stress from a different point of view… a more positive one. What if this wasn’t stressful? What are the positives that can be learned?
Here’s my 3 ideas for helping to keep stress at bay and from upending your day:
Meditation/prayer/stillness: Studies show that the part of the brain that causes the flight/flight responses – the amygdala – decreases with long term mediation practices. The amygdala shows signs of decreasing even after a couple months of a dedicated meditation practice.
Journaling: Get all your thoughts out. When you can get them out of your head, they are not trapped and you can deal with them. Weaving in gratitude during these calm moments will help us access it when stress arises.
Focus on Daily goals: When you know what winning the day looks like and you do it, the other things don’t carry as much weight. All the other stuff doesn’t sting as much if you know and have confidence on what you can accomplish each day to move the needle in a positive direction.
Having methods for relieving and even avoiding stress allows the high achiever to continue to climb to the great heights AND have more personal fulfillment in the process.