Knowing When You Have Reached the Limit

Recognizing increasing stress levels is the first step in restoring sanity.

Recently I found myself in the throes of Overdrive – overdoing things and becoming over stressed. Stress impinges on productivity, effectiveness, and quality of life so if we learn to recognize it then we have a chance to lower it. Here are three warning signs and a few ideas on how to combat Overdrive.

Just Sooo tiredWarning Sign 1 – Exhaustion. By lunch time you are contemplating a nap under your desk or you feel like collapsing at the end of the day.

Remember stress and anxiety are a physiological response to a perceived threat of some sort. You sense danger and the body reacts by releasing chemicals to prepare you to protect yourself. It is intended to be a short term state. Once the fight or flight instinct kicks in and removes you from danger, your body returns to its natural (aka de-stressed) state. Only we habitually prevent that from happening by bombarding ourselves with information and situations that reactivate the stress response.

Knowing that those chemicals are constantly at work helps us understand why we are so exhausted. Our bodies are not designed to be at that elevated level of alert all the time. Plus when we are in that state for a prolonged period of time it takes longer to recover. Hence, you get tired.

Combat this by recognizing some things aren’t a problem and or a threat. This keeps the stress chemicals from being released. When that isn’t possible, you need to carve out time to allow your body to return to normal. In other words relax! However you do that: clear you mind, work out, read a book, take a bath, play with the kids or pets and then… go to sleep!! Sleep is restorative so get plenty of zzz’s.

Warning Sign 2 – Getting Nasty or Wicked Mood Swings. Someone asks a question and you bark a response or you wind up in a slow checkout lane at the store and get really pissed off.

Stress chemicals not only prime your body they adjust your demeanor. You’re more likely to be “snotty”, show very little patience or have attitude because you are in a more aggressive state of mind to help you fend off your enemies. As you return to normal your demeanor changes back. Encountering stressful situations throughout the day feels like a roller coaster because you are experiencing high’s and low’s at a very rapid pace.

Try finding a quiet spot and literally stopping for 60 seconds. Give yourself one minute to take a few deep breaths. This encourages the body to relax and helps you adjust your demeanor and perspective. Another idea is placing a soothing image within eyesight. Glance at it periodically to create a calming effect that helps your body resume a normal state.

For more on the impacts of stress check out Anne Kreamer’s book Its Always Personal.

Warning Sign 3 – Forgetfulness or Trouble Concentrating. You’ve lost your keys for the third time this week or you can’t focus long enough follow the directions your GPS just gave you.

This is, in very simplified terms, overload on your brain circuitry. Not only is your body responding to the perceived danger, you mind is too. It also under goes a chemical change and essentially if the information you are taking in is not related to the danger it’s getting filed in your brain under “deal with this later”. Its only concern is processing life threatening info so all of its resources are going to be dedicated to that. Again, this is not biologically designed to be a long term state. Over time it takes longer for the brain to find where it stored that info and call it back up for you.

Begin to alleviate this by acknowledging your anxiety or frustration. This emotional aspect is also part of the reaction and stifling it prevents completion of the stress response. Another quick fix is to write stuff down or tell someone. This helps your brain process because not only does it store the information, it also now has the memory of writing it or speaking it, reinforcing those memory pathways.

Most importantly, recognize Overdrive is not supposed to be normal, even if culturally we’ve become accustomed to it. (“Oh he’s just under a lot of stress.”) Commit to adjust your expectation – this is not normal. Accept that and don’t make excuses, welcome this change. Ask someone to identify the warning signs when you cannot. And do not shoot the messenger when they tell you!

It’s that time when deadlines are looming, year-end is approaching and the holidays are just around the corner. This year, what are you going to do to make the season less stressful and more relaxing for yourself?

Do you recognize the warning signs?  Commit to yourself by making a plan to manage stress.  Use Maple to Track Stress, Track Sleep, jot Notes and Journal your Overdrive activities at

Originally published on December 13, 2011

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