It’s not news that we all live in a stressed world. Most of us know that stress is affecting our performance and, most of all, our happiness. It can also affect your success and hurt your chances of reaching that high level you seek. In our talk with Tina Greenbaum, CEO of Mastery Under Pressure and author of Mastery Under Pressure: All that stands between you and your goals… is YOU!, she shares the effects of stress on our well-being and gives us helpful practices to stay calm, cool, and collected.
The Science of Stress
According to Tina, stress causes an imbalance in our brains and neural circuitry, affecting cognition, decision-making, anxiety, and mood. This imbalance increases or decreases the expression and ability of these functions, often negatively impacting our daily lives—especially when it comes to our jobs. When the stress hits, we’re unable to think clearly, are stuck and overwhelmed, and just saying yes or no to a simple request becomes a real challenge.
The physical effects of stress on the body are equally concerning. Our nervous system undergoes structural changes under the pressure of chronic stress, and these changes result in various symptoms, ranging from:
- Shakiness and tremors
- A racing heart or palpitations
- Muscle tension and tightness
- Headaches and migraines
- Digestive issues, stomachaches, and more.
Stress also releases the stress hormone cortisol, which increases glucose levels, heart rate, and blood flow. Over time, this constant state of heightened alertness clouds our decision-making and even leads to us continually using trauma responses to situations (fight, flight, or freeze).
The compounding effects of stress extend beyond our bodies, negatively impacting our relationships, communication, and overall well-being. Tina says learning how to handle stress is at the foundation of Mastery Under Pressure.
The Window of Tolerance
To understand how we can manage stress, Tina introduces the term “window of tolerance,” which refers to the range of stress an individual can handle before our stress response kicks in. This response manifests as symptoms like those listed above, including physical changes such as an increased heart rate and the release of stress hormones. Unfortunately, many of us are in a state of chronic stress, and the persistent push of stress chemicals into the brain is a top contributor to stress-related illnesses.
Practicing Mindfulness for Chronic Stress
Given the damaging effects of stress on the body and mind, Tina reminds us how crucial it is to identify our stressors to manage our stress sources. One way to do this is through mindfulness. By being aware of our thoughts and emotions in the present moment without judgment, we can recognize when we’re approaching our stress threshold and take steps to manage it before it becomes overwhelming.
Practical exercises such as deep breathing, meditation, body scanning, and visualization can help you regulate stress levels in several ways:
- Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping to calm us down
- Regular meditation trains our brain to stay focused and calm under pressure
- A body scan makes us more attuned to our physical responses to stress, while visualization can prepare our mental state for success.
Completing these daily practices without judgment is vital because our thoughts are very powerful. Many of us religiously go to the gym, plan our meals for a week, and schedule sleep for our bodies, but we don’t do the same for our minds. We judge our stressed feelings as wrong or something we must put on the back burner because they ‘don’t deserve the time.’
When we minimize these feelings, we’re that much farther from solving our stress problem. If we approach these mindset practices as daily housekeeping, the same way we view eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and doing the next right thing, we can begin to work with our feelings and thoughts instead of them working against us.
Tools to Make the Shift
Productive thinking is the key to changing your mindset. Take a second to think about the internal dialogue that happens when you’re stressed. How are you speaking to yourself? How can you turn those thoughts into something useful instead?
Instead of judging your internal dialogue by thinking, I shouldn’t have this negative thought; recognize the thought/feeling and what you said/thought, and then ask yourself the question. How can that thought or feeling be helpful? What information is it giving me? Why did I react that way when that stressor triggered me?
You will notice patterns emerging from old messages that your mind and body hold onto, often from childhood. Many of us create patterns around childhood experiences that continue to impact us as grownups. Even from a young age, we attempt to reason or figure out why bad things have happened to us as children. That reasoning is sadly often self-critical.
Those thoughts can run the gamut of: I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t thin enough. I wasn’t this enough, and on and on. Unexamined and taken into adulthood, these thought patterns become our go-to. By implementing daily practices like mindfulness, we start to think more clearly and more calmly, and thus, we can listen to our intuition instead of these negative thought patterns.
Connecting The Dots
The dots connect when we start paying attention to this line of thinking, and our body becomes a teacher, showing us our triggers and the underlying message behind our behaviors. Once we understand the cause of those behaviors and that stressed energy can be directed towards something positive and enjoyable, we can stop augmenting the stress in our lives and those around us.
As a high-powered coach, Tina encourages her clients to take regular breaks, exercise, or engage in joyful activities that help them relax and expand their minds. Establishing this kind of routine increases your chances of entering a relaxed state of flow, where you are entirely absorbed in what you’re doing and operating at your highest level.
To manage distractions and improve focus, she also recommends meditation and exercises designed to expand your energetic self and enhance your ability to relax. Managing stress isn’t just about preventing adverse effects; it’s about promoting overall well-being. By increasing your window of tolerance and practicing mindfulness, you can change the outcome of the next challenging moment from one that adds to your chronic stress and instead fuels high-powered success.