Necessary Stress

By Lain Ehmann

Stress is viewed by most people as something to be minimized, if not totally eradicated. But some level of stress is not only unavoidable, it’s desirable. “We normally think of stress in the negative, but it is stress that has caused the human race to grow,” says Noah St. John, author of Permission to Succeed (Healthcom, 1999) and a consultant with the Success Clinic. “The only way not to have stress is to be six feet under.”

There is a fine balance, though. The Success Clinic suggests distinguishing between necessary stress and self-induced chaos. Necessary stress is the unavoidable result of everyday life – managing different roles at home and work, juggling priorities and setting and achieving goals. Self-induced chaos, however, is the direct result of your choices and how you handle – and add to – your competing demands.

Success Clinic vice president Denise Berard says that many successful people must fight a constant temptation to overload themselves. There’s an unspoken assumption, says Berard, that if you’re not busy every second, you’re not doing enough or you’re not important. As a result you feel guilty if you take any downtime. Even family or leisure hours are filled with classes for the kids, volunteer responsibilities, errands, working out and more.

Filling every nook and cranny of your personal and professional calendar with activities is a sure recipe for burnout and, warns Berard, that burnout will affect your on-the-job performance. “A lot of times people think they can shed everything at the door. Of course, it doesn’t work like that,” says St. John.

One solution is to schedule goal-free or technology-free zones, suggests Berard. Make your lunch hour the time you get away from the office for a quick stroll or a relaxed cup of coffee and a magazine. Declare dinnertime sacred. Turn off your cell phone, let the answering machine field all calls and take the time to reconnect with your family.

Another suggestion: Talk with the various constituencies in your life about their top priorities. You might think your salespeople find the weekly sales meetings valuable, when they’d actually rather be calling on accounts. Likewise, you might be assuming your kids love swimming lessons when they’d rather be home shooting baskets with you. Take others’ desires and suggestions into consideration, and readjust accordingly.

Likewise, be clear on your own short- and long-term goals, both personal and professional. Then evaluate your activities in terms of how well they contribute to those goals. You might find all the items you’ve put in the must-do column might actually be expendable. If you bring things back to what’s really necessary, says Berard, “you’ll get an inner peace – a balance that carries over to every area of your life.”

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