Blog 3/12/2015

Energize! How To Recognize Stress Signals And Manage Them by Leslie Juvin-Acker


We are all problem solvers. In every area of our lives, we’re constantly solving problems. No matter how good we are at it, it’s impossible to operate on beast mode without having to eventually chill out and recharge the batteries. Daylight Savings Time, for some strange reason, is one of those reminders to relax… or else.

Ominously, a study performed by the University of Colorado showed that incidences of heart attacks have been reported to increase by 24% on the Monday following Daylight Savings Time. Essentially, the thought of going back to work on Monday is already stressful enough and interrupting our sleep cycles makes the stress more than the heart can handle.

Fortunately, we don’t need to wait for a heart attack to get us thinking about managing our stress. Stress management is a huge part of my work as a coach because everyone experiences stress and stress certainly doesn’t discriminate on who it kills.

What Are Stress Signals?

Stress signals are behaviors, moods, and physical symptoms that appear in a vast variety of forms. From the classic headache, sleepless nights, and unwanted moods to relying on illicit drugs or medication, feeling constantly distracted, and engaging in destructive behaviors, stress signals can manifest at any level of stress. Stress signals are often a consequence of consistent behaviors or situations that negatively affect us and remind us that something has to change. Now. 

I give clients a list of common stress signals to see if they identify with any of them. I do this because sometimes my clients don’t even realize that they’re experiencing a stress signal because they’ve learned to ignore it. Acknowledging and dealing with stress signals is sometimes the first thing I help clients deal with on the path of facing larger workplace issues because it’s amazing how feeling relieved and more relaxed can change our entire perspective on problems.

Stress signals say, Hey, something is causing this stress and it’s telling me about this situation. I need to do something differently to move forward in a better way.

Stress Signal Scenario

David is stressed and he knows it, but he’s not clear on why. He gets frequent headaches and he feels out of sorts physically. He’s also super anxious about his work situation because things are constantly changing.

After some coaching, he’s realized that because he’s so worried about getting fired, he’s coping by taking his work home on the weekends, lying awake at night replaying the conflicts he’s had with his colleagues, and he’s stopped surfing because he just doesn’t feel motivated to paddle out. The lack of sleep, exercise, and dependence on caffeine to stay awake are triggering his headaches and the general lack of mental and physical balance he’s experiencing.

Because David knows he can’t just stroll into work and tell his colleagues they’re all incompetent boneheads who are vastly under qualified for their jobs, he knows he’s gotta change his habits in order to overcome the uncertainty at work and stop the vicious cycle that’s wreaking havoc on his health and his morale.

Questions To Ask:

- What are my stress signals (the signs that say something is not right)?
- What are the behaviors or situations that are causing the stress signal?
- What is the stress signal telling me about my situation or myself?
- What has got to stop or change around me? Long term/short term?

What Are Energizers?

You don’t have to be a Trekkie to be energized. Energizers are activities that give us energy, renew our spirit, and reduce (if not totally eliminate) negativity. Personal to each of us, energizers are the things that give us positive energy and help us to deal with stressful work and life situations instead of ignore them.

Energizers can be as small as going for an afternoon board session, meeting a friend for a cold brew, talking with a yoda-like friend, or chilling with family. They can also be big things that take more time like driving along the coast, going on an epic vacation, or trying a new hobby. Energizers can even include meditating or simply doing nothing.

Energizers say, Ok, I know that I’m not feeling optimum right now… how can I step back and regroup, recenter, and relax?

Energizer Scenario:

David acknowledges in coaching sessions that his work situation is tough and his colleagues aren’t making things any easier. He knows his present behaviors aren’t going to change things, either. Before he can actually constructively deal with his work issues, he needs to feel better now. So, instead of drinking six espressos a day, he’s down to two and is drinking water whenever he feels tired or thirsty. He sets up date nights with his wife to reconnect with her. He sets up an hour once every month with his mentor to get some perspective and he takes his kids surfing on Saturday mornings to get some laughs. While dealing with his stress signals head on, David’s taking care of other areas of his life at the same time. Win-win.

Questions To Ask:

- What activities give me energy, peace of mind, or motivate me?
- How can I fit my energizers into my day, week, month?
- Do my energizers help me constructively deal with, instead of ignore, what is causing my stress? If not, what energizers can help me do that?
- When I immediately sense stress creeping up on me, what can I immediately do to step back and relax? Who can I count on to help me if I need help?

Putting Stress Signals and Energizers To Work

Individuals who properly identify their stress signals and use their energizers can employ stress for their benefit, instead of their detriment.

Because David recognized his stress signals and employed his energizers, he then felt emotionally and physically prepared to handle his work issues: he’s got more patience to respond to mind-numbing e-mails, he’ started improving on his management skills, and he’s got more clarity to come up with creative solutions to his larger workplace problems. He’s on a brighter, more confident path.

Most stress signals aren’t the end of the world (deadly heart attacks aside). They’re cues for starting fresh and taking control of what we’ve allowed to temporarily control us. Once we’ve gotten re-energized, we’re ready to switch it back onto beast mode and get back into the game.