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Learn how to control stress so that it doesn't control you

  • 5 min read

Learn how to control stress so that it doesn't control you

It doesn’t matter how many hours I put into my day, I am just not: “catching up, getting on top of, making progress, winning”.

Are you pedaling that hamster wheel way too fast but end the day in the same spot? 

And in that ‘spot’ are we feeling overwhelmed and tired? 

Are you an ‘Anxiety Hero’, able to jump to the very worst conclusion in a single bound?

Do you dream of sitting on the kitchen floor with a huge tub of ice-cream and eating-it-all?

Or is the pursuit of magnificent grapefruit flavoured Gin, (or even just plain old Gin), your end of day therapy?

“I wish I was a little kid so I could take a long nap and everyone would be so proud of me”

Me too; my hamster on the wheel of life, never ever slowed down.  Have you also noticed that your hamster seems to be less important than everyone else’s hamster?

Your ability to decrease your inessentials, is the way to increase your essentials; to slow the hamster wheel we need to control the on-off button and the rate of rotation. 

You see, when you sit in a place of high stress, low control and general mayhem (read normal everyday life) we operate in the limbic (fight or flight part of our brain).  There’s lots of very deep, scientific research on this topic, articles and books abound. Go forth and buy and read if you will, however, if it’s a short sniff or bite you’d like, read on. 

Wouldn’t it be great if you no longer felt like you were pushing a wheelbarrow with rope handles? 

“It’s not the stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.”

It’s taken many years of reading those aforementioned very in-depth, technical articles, books and studies on neuroscience all of which made me as confused as a goat on Astro-turf. I’ve abbreviated those clever people’s work into ‘this now shallower than a puddle – but more useful than a latch on an outhouse door’), layman’s explanation of stress. Now, let’s do some drugs.

Cortisol – the biggest, most influential of them all. The adrenal gland releases Cortisol to respond to stressors during your day - a little is good, too much is bad. Just like Blue light (read screens) this bad-boy inhibits the making of Melatonin, your amazing and fantastic sleep drug.  Stress, anxiety = low melatonin = disturbed sleep.

“Is your bed magical like mine? When I go to my magical bed, I suddenly remember everything I forgot to do”

The Reptilian part of the brain releases a jolly good dose of Cortisol to wake us up in the morning and ensure that we can fight Neanderthals or hunt Dinosaurs.

Fantastic! But now some years on from our caves, because we weren't 'grown-ups' and we didn't sort the lunches the night before, the swimming togs weren't packed, there's no petrol in the car and our feral Dopamine addicted teenagers or perhaps we are the feral Dopamine addicted adult (that’s a whole other article), slept in, we have multiple doses of Cortisol (one for each stressor that occurs, upsets us, annoys us, angers us, frightens us, frustrates us) in our system and we’re still to tackle the morning commute.

And then, because we raised our voices at our darlings or our partner, (remember we weren't grown-ups), we spiked them full of Cortisol and sent them off to be generally horrible to their nice teachers or work mates, and us, they're horrible to us and then, yep, you got it, we’re horrible to other people and it’s only 9.30 am. 

The physiological response to Cortisol is astounding. It puts us into Fight, Flight or Freeze model. It causes the following physiological responses that you actually experience and ‘feel’ in your body’s reaction to danger, anxiety, aggression and uncertainty (see what you recognise in your own response to stress, public speaking, presenting to the team, difficult conversations, meeting deadlines, arguments, your feral children):

  • Increased heart rate

  • Shallow breathing

  • Increased sugar is released into your system for instant energy, followed by extreme fatigue

  • Dry mouth (the body’s digestive system shuts down so you can focus on fight or flight)

  • Your periphery vision decreases (tunnel vision) making driving dangerous when stressed

  • Your memory (cognitive ability) is decreased as your body is only concentrating of running or punching)

  • Your hearing decreases – the brain only wants you to focus on what’s really important, so hearing can become muffled and ears feel stuffed or blocked

  • Sexual performance decreases ‘you can’t run with a woody’ OR ‘you really have got to be joking right?’

  • Your muscles tighten ready for the burst of speed needed to run or fight

  • Inhibits the making of melatonin your sleep drug! – stressed, you can’t sleep #note also, blue light inhibits the making of melatonin, so watching tv, gaming, social media, screens at night-time ensure your body can’t sleep and so the cycle of stress and guaranteed shitness goes on.  Are there parts of this model that you relate to?

What if you could control just 20% of your 40-hour week?  Just get that little bit of a grip, step back from the ‘middle’ and step up to ‘fly over’ your ‘whole week’; all of your projects, and then clinically and methodically allocate time and then heaven forbid, actually do what you said you were going to. 

We’re going to explore that 20% in next months newsletter, but for now, do just one thing for yourself.

“The only way to finish is to start”

Aim to put in your diary, one hour each morning where all you do is answer your emails and make those quick-fire telephone calls, then feed the Monkey’s (that’s June’s topic), and follow that up (at least twice a week) with a minimum of 45 mins to a maximum of 2 hours allocated to work on your most urgent project.  

Project Time - The rules are; no phone calls, no texting, no internet (unless researching), no emails.  Turn the whole kit and caboodle off for that allocated ‘project’ time.

If you do nothing else this month, do this.

  • 1 hr dedicated to emails and telephone calls – each morning. Stop.

  • Answer questions from your team and feed their Monkey’s.  No more than 1 hr. Stop.

  • Allocate 45 minutes to 2 hours for your most urgent project. Stop.

  • Repeat or Not. Don’t worry about the rest of the day just concentrate on those critical first couple of hours.

Why? Because you’ll become your own pharmacist. You’ll physically control (decrease) the release of cortisol into your body; you’ll increase your happy drug, dopamine because you did good.  At the end of day, when you reflect on those controlled two hours, you’ll increase the making of serotonin, your satisfaction drug and that will hold hands with melatonin your sleep drug and you’ll start to sleep better. 

Stress is directly related to how out-of-control we feel.

Gain control – remember, you can only control, what you can control. Just aim for two hours of managed time a day, that’s all, just start with a bite of your diary, that will directly affect how quickly you eat your elephant.