Anyone protesting when you are too stressed?

“It’s not just the stress that is a problem. The worst part is that I get yelled at too. And then I get even more stressed.” The woman talking has long hair with hair clips to hold it in place, but a few curls frame her face beautifully. We talk about stress and how we need to have a strategy to deal with peaks at work when they occur. The woman refers to her not only having stress at work. “When we are having guests at home I can feel the stress level drastically increases the closer we get to the time for our guests to arrive. And that’s when Alex suddenly starts barking at me.”

This week a lot was at stake. I held trainings with important new clients and I had a lecture for my new colleagues in the media industry. When there’s a lot at stake, we all get higher adrenaline levels and that requires a lot of energy. Then you have to have a strategy to recover in between.

Activity requires recovery. It’s known to every single athlete. But when we work, we have a tendency to believe that we have endless energy. We set goals that we are to achieve and then we forget to celebrate when we have reached them. Instead we focus on the next goal. One more thing, just one thing, and then…

Your brain is wondering what you are doing when you are constantly pushing the horizon for when to celebrate, for when to feel successful, for when to catch your breath and say , “That was great! We are great! Congrats to a splendid job.”

During my efficiency programs my students get to appreciate how they use their time during an average working day. Many fill in time for routines, meetings and trainings. And then when I ask them to estimate how much unforeseen they need time for, they run into problems. They run out of time. “That’s not so bad, I say, we’ve surely covered everything, haven’t we?” Then they smile and sigh. “Great! Yes, we have.” Their tight shoulders starting to relax. Until someone wakes up; “But wait. Have we not forgotten something? What is on my to-do list, I have no time for that this time budget.” Being a senior efficiency trainer, it is wonderful to notice when an awareness is rising in the conference room. Participants turn to me and ask “How do we solve this?” My question is obviously. “How do you usually solve this when working time runs out and you still have important tasks left to do?” There is a murmur in the training room and most participants are mumbling “Overtime.”

I nod frantically by the whiteboard and draw a box with new time . “We may need to add a box and you can always borrow time from your personal life, right?” I say with great irony. Participants miss the irony and nod relieved. “Of course.”
“Whose time is that?” There are immediate answers to my question; “My own time. Family time. Time with the kids. Exercise. Rest. Recovery.” Someone continues; “Time to meet with friends. Outdoor time. Lying on the couch and rest.” Someone burst out; “Sleep! My sleep becomes clearly less because I sometimes work late into the night.” 

I write all their suggestions on the whiteboard in the time box. “Do you get it back? The private time you lend to work?” I wonder curiously. “Sometimes .” says someone. But most answers are “No.” I shake my head and exclaim; “Then it is not a loan. Then it is a theft. You cannot go into a bank asking to borrow a million Euro and in the next sentence tell the banker that you do not intend to repay the loan, not even the interest on it.” By now you can almost see the thoughts jumping around in the minds of the participants. Their faces reflect many emotions. Some are very upset.

I pose a quick question. “How can your family notice that you are stressed?" Discuss with a colleague. After a few minutes the answers are clear; “I get angry, annoyed, tired. I want to be left alone.” “My wife says I shut her out when I’m stressed. She claims that I am trying to look like I’m listening, but I don’t hear anything she says.” “My partner says I’m insufferable when I’m stressed. Slamming doors. Sighing. And he says I’m generally very cranky. He would thinks it to be better if I stepped off the bus a few stops before our home and walked off the stress before entering our home.”

I smile at all the examples and can definitely recognize myself in many of the participants’ experiences. This is human. That’s how we react in a world where there are so many choices and so high expectations and demands availability and being online 24/7.

My next question becomes inevitable; “If you were to figure out a strategy to better manage your time. Think about what you need most when you’re most stressed?” The question usually generates great silence. After a while, it always someone a little extra wise and observant noticing that all we need when we are stressed are already noted on the whiteboard. It is in the box with private time. The private time we steal when there’s too much work. When we do not have time for all the to-do’s during working hours. If you’re search among the stolen goods you will find your strategy to manage your everyday stress.

“Alex is really an expert at detecting when the whole family gets too stressed. Then he jumps up in the window pave and starts barking. Loudly, he seeks our attention until we stop and take a few deep breaths. Until we soothe our steps. Or until we put him on the leash and give him his evening walk. And that is something that’s relaxing. Taking the dog for a walk.” I cannot help but smile at the little Chihuahua who clearly seem to be the boss at the home of my participant.

What if you, instead of stealing your private time, could streamline how you spend your workday instead? What if you could free up time from meetings, from how you tend to your routines, from some of your interruptions and the unforeseen that pops up? Maybe you need to re-prioritize and say no to certain things? You may be among those who think that your work is what you want to do on your free time as well. But consider that your brain in all cases needs recovery now and then. What if you suddenly got a bit more free time? What would you long to do? I must admit that I am tempted to get an Alex, despite the risk of being barked at.
 

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule,
but to schedule your priorities.” - 
Stephen Covey

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