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.
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.