If, like most of our members, you are used to working hard and succeeding (at school, in your career), then you are probably also one of those people who are used to continuous stress. But reaffirming that we are busy by celebrating stress is a damaging habit. Learn to treat stress as a sprint – take time out when you are close to breaking, whatever that looks like for you, so you can come back refreshed & perform better.
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
In this blog, I’m going to be talking about the biggest obstacle that my clients meet when they try to switch from marathon running to sprinting: our ‘cognitive’ brains.
The stress marathon story
I’ve mentioned our cognitive brain already. It allows us to talk, to plan, and to problem-solve. It also allows us to create and share stories, many of which become so familiar that we never forget them or question them. And these stories can be wonderfully helpful to us. Or, they can be hugely unhelpful.
The unavoidable stress marathon is a story that lots of us share. Many of us have shared it since school. Indeed, we’ve always correlated success with relentless hard work. And we’ve never questioned that correlation.
This stress marathon story has often been helpful to us in the past. It’s pushed us through exams, through degree courses at top universities, into leading professional roles. We then keep reinforcing the story by celebrating stress. We compete to work the longest hours in the toughest roles. Then, we ‘relax’ by pushing ourselves with intense sports, filling our weekends with social commitments, or devoting ourselves to perfecting our nutritional intake.
We tell and re-tell the stress marathon story on a daily basis, defining our value by being busy. We share motivational articles with friends in our Facebook feeds and favour the exercise that pushes us further, faster and harder. We compete to buy the biggest, shiniest, most expensive things that we can. We make sure that we’re reading and watching the things that give us the most value for our time.
And for a while, this feels amazing. For some of us, it might feel amazing for years, or for decades. All the while that the drive system can outweigh the threat system, we feel like we can fight any battle, overcome any obstacle.
But, we reach a point where we start to break. Perhaps we start to feel anxious for no apparent reason. Maybe it starts to become uncomfortable to be quiet, calm or still. Some of us might start to lose pleasure in the little things of life. We might notice that we’re falling victim to viruses. Perhaps we realise that we can only unwind with a beer or a glass of wine.
The switch from marathon running to sprinting
Then, inspired by a blog article, we try to stop running the marathon. We book a holiday or we take up mindfulness. But it’s hard to relax and no-one else is doing it. So we re-join the marathon – even though we’ve got shin splints, ankle sprains and bad knees.
So what do you do? You don’t want to quit because you don’t want to fail. You don’t want to drop out. But you don’t want to feel like this either.
Just remember that you can be a sprinter instead, covering those 26.2 miles in short, sharp bursts. You’re going to stop when you need to and rest and cope with the discomfort of stepping out the race for an hour or two, a day or two or a week or two. You’re going to cope with the discomfort of seeing the rest of the runners head off into the distance ahead of you. Because you know that when you get started again you’re going to be faster, fitter and more resilient. When you sprint you’re going to edge ahead. And then you’re going to stop again in order to refuel, refresh and recover. In preparation for the next sprint.
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