Stress is better when it is acute – that is to say, when it comes in short, sharp bursts, like a sprint. Chronic stress, the kind from which you can not find release at all, is more like a marathon. In a job change, it’s important to sprint – and the first step is to notice when you are experiencing ‘marathon stress’. If you are aware that you are finding it impossible to de-stress, you can take steps to change your circumstances.
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
Stress. Even the word makes my shoulders tense. I spent over a decade trying to overcome stress; I was so determined, in fact, that I took myself back to university in order to retrain as a psychologist.
The irony, of course, is that I now have a job which involves lots of stress. I’m self-employed (so I stress about the mortgage); people introduce me as an ‘expert’ on stress and resilience (so I stress about my credibility), and I run training sessions for hundreds of people (so I get stress-induced nausea).
If you’re looking at Movemeon, then you’re likely to be exposing yourself to stress at the moment too. You might be experiencing the stress of job interviews, the stress of worrying about what to do next, or the stress and uncertainty that a job change can bring.
Job change stress – the marathon vs. the sprint
Not all stress is created equal. Hopefully, the sort of stress you’re experiencing is of the acute variety. By that, I mean that it’s a short, sharp sprint. It’s a burst of stress which allows you to perform at your best – it makes you alert, willing to persevere in your job change and makes you persuasive. And then it releases you back into a state of recovery and relaxation.
Yet, if acute stress is the sprint, then chronic stress is the marathon. Worse still, it’s the marathon that you haven’t trained for, haven’t got the kit for, and in all likelihood that you didn’t sign-up for in the first place.
You see, unlike acute stress, chronic stress doesn’t end at a sprint. It doesn’t release us back to relaxation. Instead, it is a series of relentless stressors stretching out in front of us, making us forgetful, overwhelmed and ill. It leaves us feeling worried, sad or angry, and it impacts our ability to think and perform. That’s bad at any point in our lives, but it’s particularly unhelpful when we’re trying to make a job change and move forwards in our career.
How does it work in our brains?
Our body and brain are designed for acute stress. The ‘emotional’ brain (it’s the oldest part in evolutionary terms) fires up the sympathetic nervous system so that we can cope with threats or exciting opportunities. It can then trigger the calming parasympathetic nervous system to promote recovery afterwards.
But the emotional brain is not left to cycle between acute stress and recovery on its own. Instead, we all have our clever, human ‘cognitive’ brains too. And whilst our cognitive brains are capable of amazing feats, they’re also good at embroiling us in chronic stress. For example, as I sit and unwind with a cup of tea, my cognitive brain feeds me worries about how to phrase a difficult email to a client, a training session I’m due to deliver and the effects of Brexit on the economy. And so I shift back to a state of stress.
So if you’re on the edge of the marathon, then what help can I offer you?
Well, the art is to notice the marathon in the first place, and then to decide if and how you want to run it. If we’re not being mindlessly swept along with all the other runners, then we can decide when we want to rest and when we want to sprint. Even if following the pack feels easier, with practice we can learn to choose our moments of peak performance, spending our energy only when it matters.
So what about you? Are you a sprinter at the peak of your performance for a job change, or are you running a marathon without having even signed-up to take part?
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