You know what it’s like when you’re down to the wire on a project and suddenly that jolt of adrenalin kicks in and gets you to the finish line? That’s stress. In small doses, stress can give you a welcome energy boost and the increased focus you need to get the job done. But when you’re dealing with massive doses of stress – especially unrelenting stress with no recovery periods – it can take a physical, mental and emotional toll.
When your brain perceives danger – real or imagined – your natural survival instincts spring to your defense and you go into “fight or flight” mode. Your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tighten, your focus sharpens and your blood starts pumping faster. Stress can protect you by increasing your reaction time so that you’re able to slam on the brakes and avoid hitting a car that suddenly pulls out in front of you. Stress also keeps you sharp when you’re giving a presentation or studying for final exams.
The problem is that the amount of stress in your life can elevate without your even realizing it. I call this stress creep. It’s not hard for our stress to creep up on us in our ultra-driven society where we seem to pride ourselves on being crazy, busy, slammed on a 24/7 basis. And it’s literally 24/7 since our cyber-gadgets and social networking systems have added a right-now urgency and around-the-clock accessibility to our lives like never before.
So how do you know if your stress is under control or off the charts? Get a quick snapshot by answering the questions below with the following scores: 4 always, 3 often, 2 sometimes, and 1 never.
If you’re into Spring cleaning, you may have already started clearing out the clothes lurking in the back of your closet, but have you considered cleaning out your relationship closet?
I’d bet a tie-dyed T-shirt and pair of espadrilles (or are those back in style?) that you’re hanging onto more toxic friendships and draining business associates than you are fat jeans.
When I lost the twenty-five pounds I’d been lugging around for a decade, courtesy of juggling a stress-filled corporate career with a couple of kids, a “friend” pointedly suggested that I not give my old clothes away since I would probably put the weight back on.
If Richard Simmons had backed a semi-truck up to my bedroom door and offered to personally help me shovel out my closet with a forklift, I couldn’t have sprung into action any more quickly.
I promptly dumped all my fat clothes into five Hefty bags for donation to a homeless shelter and seriously considered dumping my “friendship” as well. Instead, I told my friend she’d hurt my feelings and that I wanted her support. Her response? That she’d do whatever she could, including joining me on my beach-path jogs, to help me stay in shape.
I don’t advocate tossing people because they say things you don’t want to hear. But I do advocate taking inventory of your relationships to see if you’re getting what you want from your connections or just hanging on because you don’t know how to let go.
For the occasional working vacation, I lecture about Hollywood and teach improvisation on cruise ships throughout Europe and the Caribbean. I know, it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it, right?
What I find endlessly fascinating when I introduce adults to improv is their vastly different reactions to trying something where they could potentially fall flat on their faces. And not from one too many Pina Coladas, by the way, but from taking a risk that might not play out the way they expected. Even when it’s all in fun, some people succumb to fear’s first line of defense, what I call the Immediate Negative Response, or INR, before even considering trying something new.
The INR is that knee-jerk resistance to change that most of us have experienced at one time or another, which causes us to freeze, retreat, or somehow disengage from the impending risk, even if the results might be delightful or, at least, painless. Even before we’ve had a chance to consider why or why not to take on a project, start a fitness plan, dive into the dating pool – or join an improv class – our fear has already shut us down. By reacting on pure emotion and giving into the INR, we rob ourselves of opportunities for growth, connection and sometimes just a little silliness.
Yogi Berra said, “You gotta be careful if you don’t know where you’re going because you might not get there.” Despite his famously lopsided logic, I’m sure you get the drift. If you want to get somewhere, it helps if you know where somewhere is.
I’d like to take that one step further. If you want to get somewhere, knowing the starting point is just as critical (if not more) than knowing the end point. With your somewhere in mind, let’s take a look at where you actually are right now so you can create the shortest possible path from here to there.
With a focus on inspiring excellence in times of uncertainty, Libby delivers keynote addresses and training programs for companies desiring to maximize a multi-generational workforce. Her trademarked “Clarify, Simplify & Execute” process helps individuals and organizations increase employee engagement, create high-passion teams and lead the Gen Y workforce to success, critically important as millions of Baby Boomers are poised for retirement, potentially taking decades of experience and expertise with them.
Among her corporate achievements, Libby is most proud of having guided many young employees to career success. Her former staff members now hold senior management positions at CBS Entertainment, ESPN, Universal, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Sony, Disney/ABC and many other organizations. Her coaching clients have also achieved great success in transitioning from one industry to another, climbing the corporate ladder and launching entrepreneurial ventures.
I drove past my neighborhood YMCA the other day and noticed a big banner hanging on their fence that read, “Professional Role Models Wanted.” Intrigued, I called to inquire what sort of role models they needed. “A receptionist, maintenance engineer and several camp counselors,” I was told by the very efficient-sounding woman who took my call.
“So when you hire people to work at the Y, you expect them to be role models?” I inquired, the light finally dawning on me.
“If they’re not capable of being role models, why would we want to hire them?” she responded. Why indeed?
Although the Y intentionally recruited its role models, I stumbled on my first one quite by accident when I hired my assistant Beth fifteen years ago. I’d just been made vice president at Sony Pictures Television and needed a strong right hand, but I had no idea that this sweet, artistic young woman would soon become the embodiment of grace under pressure and my role model for courage.
Appearing – 02/07/10 – on Steven Diamond Live! Radio Broadcast
Libby Gill – An entertainment industry veteran, Libby Gill spent fifteen years heading public relations and corporation communications as senior vice president at Universal Studios; vice president at Sony Pictures Entertainment and Turner Broadcasting and was also the PR/branding brain behind the launch of the Dr. Phil Show. Libby is now an internationally respected executive coach, brand strategist and bestselling author. She has shared her success strategies on the Today Show, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, CNN, NPR, Oprah & Friends Radio Network, Fox News, CBS Early Show, and in Time Magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, O Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Self and many more.