La clave del stress en tiempos de crisis

Va nota sobre descubrir las reacciones de stress y sacar provecho de ellas estratégicamente.

Use Stress to Your Advantage
12:15 PM Wednesday March 4, 2009

Peter Bregman | Harvard Business Publishing

 
A friend of mine sends me at least five articles each day about the economy. Each with a slightly different viewpoint about how to successfully manage through the next few years. Each suggesting that the future is unpredictable before offering a prediction and some advice.
One day I asked him what he was getting out of all this reading. His answer was immediate and clear. “Conserve cash. Reduce expenses. Continue doing your job the best you can. Stay the course.”
Great. That’s a reasonable strategy. We’re done then. No more articles. Let’s spend our time doing more productive things, or at least more enjoyable things, right?
But my friend keeps sending me article after article. And I keep reading them. Why?
First, maybe, just maybe, the next article will provide some insight the others missed — the secret to emerging from this economic mess better off.
Second, looking for that insight gives us a sense of comfort and control. It gives us something to do. We’re reading. We’re thinking. We’re discussing. We’re developing opinions. It makes us feel better.
It’s our Stress Reaction, what we do to manage ourselves through stressful periods of time. I don’t mean a particular stressful event, like having an irate client on the phone, but the kind of ongoing stress that’s impossible to pinpoint or allocate to a particular person or event.
How do you respond to your stressful life? What’s your Stress Reaction?
I recently cut my hair very short. Out of curiosity, I looked back through iPhoto to see other times I’ve cut my hair that short. There was 1998 when I first started my business, 2000 during the dot com crash, and around the births of each of my three children. Cutting my hair short is one of my Stress Reactions. It gives me the illusion of control. My wife used to joke about another one of mine — she loved when I had a big proposal to write because I always spent the first day cleaning our house.
A Stress Reaction can be a useful tool to maintain your focus and preserve your ability to move through times of uncertainty. A sense of control is invaluable when we lack real control.
Of course it would be ideal if we all had Stress Reactions that drove us to eat normal portions of healthy food every few hours, exercise daily, sleep eight hours a night, meditate morning and evening, and connect deeply and authentically with our friends, colleagues, and loved ones. But some Stress Reactions are destructive. They increase our stress rather than reduce it.
A client of mine, vice president of sales at a software company, told me his sales managers were worried they wouldn’t meet their sales goals in this economic environment. I asked how they were acting differently as a result of their nervousness.
“They’re micromanaging their teams,” he answered, “requiring more reporting, making heavy-handed suggestions on next steps and second-guessing team members’ decisions.”

This has the potential for a perilous outcome: sales people spend more time reporting and less time selling. They feel frustrated, impotent, and insecure. Their confidence plummets. That reduces sales. Which creates more stress. Which intensifies their Stress Reactions. And so on.
Another destructive Stress Reaction is withdrawal. We become uninvolved, aloof, occupied with other things. We hide in our offices. We avoid communicating.
A third common Stress Reaction is to get competitive. Sometimes that translates into working harder. Other times it feels political. At the extreme, you might become like Alex Rodriguez taking steroids — doing anything to get an extra edge.
So what can we do about these destructive reactions?
Pause.
Sit down, shut off your computer, take a deep breath and ask yourself “How am I handling the stress?”
Try to recognize your stress tendency. How do you act when you’re overwhelmed? If you’re not sure, ask the people around you. They’ll know.
Then ask yourself if it helps or hurts. If it helps, like cutting your hair, then by all means cut away. Even build it into your process.
Once I realized that cleaning the house was one way I dealt with the stress of writing a big proposal, I stopped getting frustrated about wasting that time and, instead, built it into my schedule. I started the proposal one day early with step 1: clean the house.
But if your Stress Reaction hurts? If you’re micromanaging? Avoiding? Being aggressively competitive? Something else?
Then take another deep breath and cut yourself some slack. It really is stressful these days and it’s bound to affect you. Getting frustrated with yourself will only make it worse (and getting frustrated with yourself for getting frustrated with yourself will make it worse still).
The amazing thing here is that noticing your Stress Reaction is all you have to consciously do. The rest mostly takes care of itself. Once you notice it, you’ll automatically start to mitigate it. And you don’t necessarily have to stop the behavior completely. Some of your Stress Reaction may be helpful even if too much is hurtful. It’s useful in turbulent times to manage more closely, withdraw to reflect, and compete a little harder than usual. It helps keep you on track and focused. Just remember to pause. And notice.
Meanwhile, my friend keeps sending me his articles and I, in my short hair and clean house, keep reading them.
* * *
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