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The first step in successfully handling job change stress is understanding stressors. A stressor is more than just something that causes us anxiety – it’s anything that puts stress on the sympathetic nervous system. Even a burst of exercise can be a stressor. The danger is that many of these stressors actually feel good (you feel like you are succeeding when you do all that exercise). During a job change, we need to pick our stressors carefully (read a more comprehensive list below) so we don’t exhaust ourselves before the process is finished.
In this series of four blogs, psychologist and resilience specialist Dr Lindsay Joyce will talk about managing job change stress when transitioning between different roles. Lindsay has a consulting background herself but retrained as a psychologist when she realised that she was becoming hindered by stress. With her colleagues at The People Project, she now works with individuals and organisations to help them to discover their own resilience. Connect with her at the-people-project.com
When we’re exploring our next job change, we’re likely to be experiencing stress. Change, uncertainty, job applications, interviews – all of these things are stressors. And, as I indicated in this previous blog post, too many stressors can leave us mired in the marathon of chronic stress and underperformance.
Job change stress – What can we do?
Well, a simple first step is for us to recognise our stressors, and then to choose them carefully. You see, when we talk in everyday terms about stress, we tend to be better at recognising our ‘threat system’ stressors. By this, I mean the things that trigger negative emotions for us. They might make us feel anxiety, envy or anger. These stressors might be real events: my example would be the anxiety I feel before delivering a training session. Or, they might be familiar worries which are played out in our imaginative ‘cognitive brains’ and demand our attention even if we’re trying to relax on the sofa. Again, I’ve mentioned that a typical worry for me is my own credibility as a psychologist.
But these threat system stressors are not the only ones which create a demand on our reserves. Importantly, ‘drive system’ experiences and thoughts can also trigger a stress response for our bodies. And this is where we tend to become disconnected from what counts as stress. You see, a stressor is actually anything which activates the body’s physiological ‘accelerator pedal’ – the sympathetic nervous system. The drive system is all about motivation, determination and want. Then, if you’re a typical Movemeon candidate, you are probably experiencing a lot of these stressors, perhaps without even registering them.
For example, an intense burst of exercise is a stressor for your body. Equally, so is a moment of self-discipline as you forego a biscuit, or the determination to impress during an intense meeting with clients. And then, you may well be getting home and spending the evening perfecting your online job applications with unrivalled efficiency. Combine these experiences with some ‘cognitive brain’ thoughts about wanting to be successful, wealthy and fulfilled, and you might find that your drive system stressors are absorbing significant amounts of your energy.
What is the problem with this?
Well, unlike unpleasant threat system stressors, these drive system stressors feel good. They’re exciting and reinforcing. They can make us feel like we’re winning at life. Yet, they’re still exerting the same physiological stress on our bodies. They’re still contributing to our overall tally of acute stress sprints. And they’re what tend to tip my clients into the overwhelming world of the chronic stress marathon.
So, as a Movemeon candidate, you need to be thinking as much about your drive system stressors as you do your threat system ones. If you’re racing out from work to the gym, and then on to see friends for drinks, before going online to plan your job change and charge through some job applications into the early hours, then you might be hovering dangerously close to getting swept along with that chronic stress marathon.
If you want to find ways to develop your recovery instead of your stress, then join me next time for my third blog instalment.
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