READ ME: Why you feel stressed and what to do about it
Stress. We all feel it from time-to-time. Or maybe it’s not so infrequent in your life. Perhaps stressed is starting to become the state you find yourself in most rather than least in your day-to-day living.
Why is that? Why do we feel stressed? And how can we overcome it?
Do we need stress?
I think we would all acknowledge that we do need a little ‘stress’ in our lives. A small about of stress lifts us out of apathy and doing absolutely nothing. When we’re on holiday and there are no deadlines or pressures we might remember what it feels like to have zero stress and feel completely disinclined to lift a finger or do anything.
If we look at a stress curve that illustrates this principle we can see there’s ‘optimum stress.’ This is a zone where we’re motivated enough to get things done, but it’s that feeling before the stress becomes too much – where fatigue, exhaustion and anxiety start to creep in and our performance starts to suffer.
Some people will say to me that they need stress in order to get things done. They need a deadline, a boss breathing down their neck, a sense of impending doom. Only then will they crack on with the task in hand and get things finished.
But being in a state of stress long-term is not good for your health. It is draining on the body, affects our other functions like digestion and sleep and increases the likelihood of making errors (hello more stress.)
There is another way to achieve greatness.
Let’s look at two ways of getting things done:
You leave jobs until the last minute and then rush to complete them before a deadline. How does it leave you feeling? Satisfied with your work? Or a little bit underwhelmed and feeling like you could have done better? Another missed opportunity to really max out on something and reach our potential.
Compare that with the feeling when we really get absorbed by a task. Time seems to slip by unnoticed, you are completely drawn in to what we’re doing and nothing else is distracting you. You pour every bit of concentration, energy and creativity into the task you’re doing and get great results. Isn’t that an amazing feeling?
Get in the zone rather than getting stressed
To achieve our best and to reduce stress we should be aiming to work ‘in the zone’ rather than under pressure and feeling anxious. It’s a much better way to get things done and its far more kind on our body in the short and long term, which means it’s more sustainable.
How do we get in the zone?
We focus on one thing at a time. It’s a simple as that.
We give that one task our full and undivided attention which helps us get it done quickly and efficiently and leaves us with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Much more than a rushed job to meet a deadline.
Obviously some tasks are more absorbing than others. Doing your taxes or mundane admin tasks aren’t going to enthral us. But doing them with our complete attention will get them done quicker.
Which leads me on to another reason we feel stressed….
We’re always trying to multi-task
Newsflash for both men and women. Men will probably like it more:
Humans can’t multi-task.
Sorry. But it’s true. Our brains work in serial, we process one thing after another. Just like a computer.
So when you think you’re doing two things at once, all you’re really doing is flicking between tasks. Of course you’re flicking very quickly – taking 0.2-0.5 of a second to change between tasks. But that time can increase when we’re tired or feeling more stressed or overwhelmed or when we’re doing 3, 4 or more things at once.
And really – what happens to that time? It’s gone! Wasted. If you multi-task for any length of time, those precious seconds are going to add up. Add to that increasing opportunities to become distracted and we’re simply not operating at our best.
In fact multi-tasking has been proven to mean we are less able to prioritize and increase our errors and therefore our stress levels.
Give up multi-tasking and do one thing at a time
With all that negativity about multitasking I’m really hoping I’m convincing you of the benefits of single-tasked working. It might feel strange and counterproductive at first to do one thing at a time, especially if you’re used to juggling all the balls at once. But I can promise once you start hitting that zone (or ‘flow state’) more regularly and getting that feeling of satisfaction of work well done you’ll never look back.
Next week we'll share more on this topic in a part 2, looking at how to gain back time in your day and how to feel more in control.
We'd love to know what you think! Does any of this resonate with you? Do you multi-task and will this make you more aware of when you’re doing it? Why do you think you feel stressed? Join us over on social media to discuss and share your experiences.