Does this sound like you?
- You work in a field that demands meticulous job performance
- You have to adapt to constant change
- Your work requires focus, decision-making and strategy
- It’s critical you keep your cool and don’t become negative or short-sighted
If so, that’s a lot of stress and in an attempt to cope you may stay up late, wake up frequently, eat whatever you can find or skip workouts. Unfortunately, these strategies make your stress worse, not better.
Sure, you’d like to “reduce” or “manage” the stress in your professional and personal life, but those things are not going to change any time soon. In fact, your stress is almost guaranteed to increase as you continue to advance in your career and your personal life becomes more complex.
This means the only viable options to successfully deal with the stress in your life are to:
- increase your capacity for it and
- train your body and brain to recover from it more quickly and efficiently.
The key to sustaining high performance in the face of stress is to build your physiological resiliency.
Stress is not something that just happens in your head: it’s a chemical, hormonal event that radically changes the physiology of your brain and body. Building your resiliency relies on transforming the physiology of your brain and body to ideal performance states – it’s about Balancing Your B.O.O.K.S.
B = BREAK FREQUENTLY Aim to take short breaks several times throughout the day – ideally every hour – where you get up and stretch, move, get water or a snack, stand during phone calls or spend time connecting with colleagues, customers or clients. You’ll get the cognitive recovery you need and improve blood circulation to your brain and muscles.
O = OPTIMIZE BLOOD GLUCOSE Eat reasonably sized meals and small snacks every three to four hours to keep your blood glucose levels within the ideal range, fuel your brain for optimal performance and keep the stress response from being triggered. The stress of low blood glucose releases cortisol into the blood stream, lets the primitive portion of your brain take over, makes you crave high-fat, high-sugar foods in large amounts and swings your blood glucose levels from too low to too high. In this state you’ll feel tired, sluggish, negative, and put more stress on your body.
O = OPTIMAL DEFAULTS MAKE BEHAVIOR CHANGE STRESS-FREE AND AUTOMATIC Make a small tweak to your environment so that a resilient behavior is easy and automatic – that’s called the optimal default. To support your new behaviors, create optimal defaults at work to keep you moving and eating regularly:
- Put a tool you use regularly like your phone or post-its across the room instead of within arm’s reach so you have to get up each time you need it.
- Create a standing work station by putting your computer higher (mine happens to be a cardboard box).
- Swap out a chair with wheels for one that doesn’t roll.
- Put your printer further away from where you sit.
- Place a recurring online order for healthy snacks to be delivered to your office. When eating at a restaurant, ask the server to not bring bread or chips to the table if you have a hard time resisting them, or ask them to box half of your entrée so you don’t eat an overly large portion.
K = KEEP LOW-GLYCEMIC SNACKS ON HAND Choose snack foods that are low-glycemic, which contain protein, fiber and healthy fats. Low-glycemic snacks release glucose into the blood stream in a slow, steady trickle, causing less stress, and fueling the brain and muscle cells longer. Things like nuts, seeds, plain yogurt, apples with peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, dried apricots, and cottage cheese make convenient options. Your portion size should be approximately 50-150 calories.
S = SHORT BURSTS OF EXERCISE MAKE YOU MORE RESILIENT Several times throughout the day, get a short burst of intense physical activity for 30-60 seconds to flush out the stress hormones and release the bills molecules:
- Instead of taking the elevator or escalator, sprint up a flight or two of stairs.
- Close your office door and “jump rope” without a rope or do a series of squat jumps.
- Go into the handicap bathroom stall and do some shadow boxing (an HR person emailed me about doing this before having to fire someone).
- When doing cardiovascular exercise, do several rounds of short periods of higher intensity exercise followed by short periods of recovery.
How quickly your heart rate drops and recovers from a stressful event – including exercise – is a measure of how resilient you are. Short bursts of physical activity are the best way to train your heart rate to recover from stress. Research shows there is a direct connection between training the heart rate to drop and recover after the stress of exercise and getting it to drop and recover after the stress of everyday life.
Training the body to recover from any type of stress—physical, mental or emotional—improves the body’s resiliency.
Balancing Your B.O.O.K.S. helps build your resiliency, keeps you focused and able to make better decisions, act with sound judgment and not be a victim of anxiety in the face of stress. Won’t it be great when you begin performing at higher levels at work and home, sleep better, have more energy and see improvements in your health?