You’re known for generating great ideas, learning quickly and coming up with solutions that work – except, you haven’t been on top of your game lately and you’re not sure what’s changed.
The likely culprit is stress. In order to access a broader spectrum of your brain function, your body needs energy as a neural network is activated and new pathways form. But all this can’t happen when you’re being wiped out by stress, because in this pressurised state, your body and mind want to conserve energy, making it difficult to access the critical thinking and decision-making parts of your brain.
We have learned that when you’re stressed, you produce certain neurochemicals that can be good in small doses to help the learning process, but in high doses can actually inhibit the learning process. And that’s the big issue we find ourselves in today: we’re now experiencing an accumulation of small stresses every day. Whether it be long working hours, unreasonable workloads, constant interruptions, social media streams, late nights out, and the loss of the divide between home and work life – it all adds up.
The accumulation of all these micro-stresses is leaving an imprint on our physiology, whether you’re aware of it or not. It’s pushing us further into that stress response than we’re really designed for. And it’s impacting us in very real ways, at behavioral or physical levels.
You might think this fast-paced lifestyle is merely the “new norm” – but that’s because you’ve just gotten used to the constant pressure. It’s not a good thing at all. It’s actually making you dumber.
The best way to explain this is an analogy I’ve been giving in one of my keynote presentations, about how to cook a frog. When you put a live frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will stay there until it’s cooked, because the frog is so resilient that its internal state will keep synchronising with the environment – provided that the change in the environment is minor. It will stay in that pot until it’s too late.
We’re like that frog. All these micro-stresses are turning up the heat little by little, and we only realise it when it’s too late. When we’re cooked. What does a cooked frog look like in real terms? It’s not being able to sleep, suffering from anxiety and depression, and chronic injuries, the latter of which is the body’s representation of that accumulated stress.
This stress is making us more reactive to the environment around us – and less in control. It’s making us less able to tap into that creative genius that’s inherent in all of us. It’s making us less tolerant to home stresses; when we’re not coping, small issues become major and we retaliate as opposed to being present and being able to deal with it.
To be in an optimum state, where you’re able to access the best parts of yourself, takes awareness. So to become more aware of how your actions effect your present state, try this: Picture having four dials that represent the following aspects in your life: food; movement and exercise; sleep; and life stress.
Now, at any given point in time, you can have one of those dials amped up and the other dials burning at midway, but if you have the life stress dial right up because of work, and then the sleep dial right up as well because you aren’t getting enough rest due to the long hours in the office, then that starts to affect the food dial and exercise and movement dial, and all of a sudden, all of your dials are up at 10, and you’re cooked. You’re burnt out.
An optimum state is where you have just enough stress and counterbalances. So if you have a really busy week at work, you have to be more vigilant and offset that stress in other ways. The accumulation of stress hormones are going to create real and tangible impacts on your body, so you could make sure you eat a really clean diet that’s going to give you all the micronutrients you need to help deal with the chemicals produced in your body.
From a training perspective, you might not do high-intensity workouts that week as your body won’t have its usual recovery power because it’s already dealing with the stress at work. I’m not saying you shouldn’t train. In fact, movement is still key, but you want to choose the kind of movement that suits your current situation.
Week by week you’ll change, depending on which dials are turned up. And that’s the optimum state where you can give rise to the best aspects of yourself. That’s when you’re constantly adapting to your environment. Life has stresses – we can’t avoid that. But what we can control is how we deal with those stresses, how those stresses impact our biology and mental state, and how long it takes our body and mind to process those stresses.
It’s about being aware and making those intelligent decisions.