Identify Stress, Increase Productivity and Happiness

It’s Monday morning, early, maybe 5:30 or 6:00 am. The alarm clock sounds and reality hits you. What does reality look like for you at 6:00 am Monday morning? Here are two possibilities:

  • Life sucks.
  • I can’t wait to get up and take on the world!

For a lot of people their feet haven’t even touched the carpet and they’re already stressed out. Do you belong to this group of individuals? If so, you might want to read on.

Do you know where your stress might be coming from?

In my role as an executive coach, I work with a lot of people who complain about different types of stress that sap their energy and steal their joy. Oftentimes it is easy to detect the source of their stress; other times it’s hidden under a rock that needs to be turned over.

In many cases stress is job-related. This makes sense because we spend so many hours at work each day and with today’s technology, we find ourselves taking work home with us. Now think about the stress that is created when a person is in the wrong job. Here’s an example: Some people have no problem making cold sales calls; others experience a panic attack if they are asked to call someone they don’t know. If you’re not a passionate sales person, cold calls can be the closest thing to waterboarding. It’s all about your personality and how you are “wired”.

How does it feel reporting to a manager you don’t respect because he’s incompetent, rude or a micromanager? You do your best to avoid him so you can get on and do your job. Your best days are when he’s on a business trip and you don’t have to see his face for three days.

When you try to avoid your boss you are changing your normal behavior in order to reduce the stress that this person causes in your life.

We find a lot of stress coming from the workplace, but there are other stressors that we can identify. Here are a few you should think about, as they may be the source of your stress:

Social stress: Have you ever had a falling out with a good friend? Maybe he said something that was really hurtful or you were let down, big time. Whatever the cause, it led to the relationship being severed. You play the blame-game, lose sleep and feel just awful.

Family stress:  Have you ever had to take an Xbox controller away from a 17-year old boy because he hasn’t looked at his homework or taken out the trash? I have and I find it very stressful. I can only image what dads go through with sons that are in trouble with the police or suspended from school for disciplinary reasons.

Economic stress:  Young adults are graduating from college with high debt and no job. I remember when I moved back from Europe some twenty years ago with a wife and 6-month old, no job and financial reserves that were starting to dwindle.  And six years ago we put our Chicago home on the market and moved to Charlotte.  It took 2 ½ years to sell our house at a financial loss. Those were very stressful years especially because I was trying to start my own business and had very little income.

Health stress:  Two years ago we lost a student at our school to cancer. It was so difficult for all of the boy’s friends, teachers and school family. He fought and fought but in the end he couldn’t shake the cancer. I can only imagine the stress that the boy and his parents had to endure during this fight. An old saying goes: “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”  I’d add to that: “… except lots of stress.”

Beliefs or Purpose stress:  Regardless of your religious background, people will question their faith. One common question that people have when something bad happens is: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “If there really is a loving God, how could he allow this to happen?” If we believe that someone is treated unfairly, it can lead to stress.

In my coaching practice I work with executives who are close to retirement and experiencing a lot of stress. Usually, it is not financially related as they have more than enough money to enjoy a very comfortable retirement. Often times I find that these executives are experiencing stress because they are not prepared for retirement. Some don’t even know if they want to retire or just do something different. They are afraid of falling into a dark hole of boredom. Or they miss the status and recognition that went along with a high-power job. What these executives are looking for – and what is behind their stress – is a lack of purpose.

What I’ve described above are possible sources of negative stress, often called Distress.  Sometimes we experience positive stress, also called Eustress. An example might be getting promoted into a higher-level job. You love the higher salary, new title, stock options but the new role feels very stressful. This is because you are being pulled outside your comfort zone, learning new things and growing.

Would you experience distress or eustress if you won your state’s $200 million lottery?

Stress can sap your energy and increase your blood pressure. It can lead to the break-up of relationships or it can be experienced when you create a new one – think e-Harmony!  It is important that we understand where our stress is coming from and if it is of the negative kind, find ways to address and reduce this stress. Often times we can do this on our own. Other times we need to find support and wise counsel from a good friend or an executive coach.