When stressed, your brain stops

And it’s worse than that. Under stress not only does higher order reasoning stop, but under ongoing stress, we become less likely to be able to make good decisions. Another way to describe this is: The path to burnout. We become so stressed over time that we can’t think of any solutions. This is the exact situation I found myself in years ago.

Now there is some research that shows that when we are stressed, the brain changes in ways that keep us stressed! In short the researched shows that under chronic stress, the rats stopped making their usual decisions.  Instead relying on their last choice – even when it didn’t serve.

I’ve seen this behaviour many times in the people I work with. They are so stressed, they miss vital information. This vital information is often in the form of feedback from the world in relation to their decisions. This feedback is not taken as information for a new decision but instead feeds straight into the stress. Increasing our stress and thus making our decisions even less useful. A vicious cycle. And the people I work with keep doing the same things that cause their stress at the same time they are unable to think of a way out.

As I’ve said many times before, if you’re trying to change your stress while under stress you’re fighting an uphill battle. First you need to catch a breath, make some space, or just take a break. Then you can learn and train the skills needed to keep that stress managed.

So here is the test: If you think you can’t make the decision to take a break or you don’t know how to take a break, you’re too stressed to make that choice! Your biology is working against you. If that’s the case, take a break RIGHT NOW. Stop what you’re doing and go for a 5 minute walk outside. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your pyjamas, or that it’s raining or snowing outside. Go for the walk, you need it more than another 5 minutes surfing the web.

Link to the research.

How to get an hour of free time

You, like me, have an open door policy. This policy works well and can be good, however, it can distract and derail your thinking. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of working on a challenging problem, only to have someone walk in and ask a simple question that derails your whole train of thought. Studies show it then takes an average of 20 minutes to get back to where you were interrupted. How long does it take you? Do you know?

If you are being interrupted throughout the day, there is a very simple thing you can do to get an hour or two uninterrupted.

Invest in a $2 “Do Not Disturb” sign. While this does not always work, with training, the people in your office will get the message. You can also add a “Will return at X O’clock” so they know when you will be available.

Let everyone that visits the office know what you’re doing, and why.

Then be consistent. For example every three to four pm be unavailable. It might take a little time, but soon everyone will know you’re unavailable during those times. And almost like magic, you have a solid block of time to focus on your work, not someone elses.