According to the American Medical Association, it’s the number one proxy killer disease today because it’s the basic cause for more than 60% of all human illness and disease. You can’t argue with the facts, but stress is a reality that we all experience on a daily basis. To further confuse us go-getters, having some levels of positive stress is a key ingredient to reaching peak performance, while too much of it causes illness and burnout.
Some of these gradients of stress are easy to self-diagnose — for example, being bored out of our minds, operating in our Zone of Genius, or being burned out. We can tell when we are experiencing each of those extremes, because it’s obvious. What’s less identifiable is when stress mounts subtly and we continually push ourselves in response to the increased stress. It’s not easy to tell when it’s subtly affecting our performance. In fact, you probably can’t tell. We miss those subtle and not-so-subtle signs that appear before the total burnout wakes us up to the impending danger. Burnout equals total shutdown, and nothing could be worse for performance (or your business) than that.
So how can you better notice the telltale signs of stress impact?
Take this quick questionnaire and use the score key below to see if you are currently experiencing a level of stress that could be impacting your performance in a way you want to avoid.
Answer “yes” or “no” to the following scenarios:
1. There is something impending in your life that feels as though it’s out of your control and despite continued efforts to get a desired result, it’s not happening, (i.e. a deadline, a result, getting a client, making payroll, a key relationship in your life).
2. Your typical stress relievers aren’t working as well as usual (i.e. talking to a friend, working out, taking a deep breath).
3. You feel less productive, even though you are working longer hours
4. You are easily distracted and have to work harder to have clarity of thought for problem solving.
5. You aren’t as excited about things that generally excite you.
6. You feel tired and are having a hard time getting out of bed, even though you are getting your usual amount of sleep.
7. You are more irritable than usual.
8. Your ability to focus is strained and your mind is thinking of 10 things at once all the time.
9. You feel guilty when you stop working because it feels like there will never be an end.
10. You are not being proactive about how you structure your day, you are constantly reacting, and feel like you are juggling to get the basics done.
If you answered “yes”:
7-10 times: You are stressed out. At this level, your performance could be taking a hit. Especially if you’re accomplishing tasks in this state. Realizing that your stress levels are high is the first step to managing them down. Figure out what you can do to change your situation or how you are operating within it before you head into burnout, which could be inevitable if you continue down this path for more than a month or two longer. At this stage, I would seek out some support from a mentor, friend, or performance coach that can help you re-think how you are structuring your work day.
4-6 times: You are potentially teetering back and forth on the edge of your performance being negatively impacted by your stress. Because you’re just starting to show signs of being at the level that it could negatively impact your performance, you can quickly do something now to go back into the space of positive stress. Re-think what’s providing you with this added stress and see if you can create a new mental model around your situation. Seeing something from a valid, different, positive angle can be a powerful tool to subside stress and keep you from going off the rails into the negative decline.
1-3 times: You are managing your stress well. You may have had a recent stressful event or day, but it has not derailed you from keeping your head in the game and having positive stress be a tool for you to create great results and experience top performance.
Stress is something we all have to manage. The key is staying conscious about good stress versus bad stress. If you are feel like something is wrong, it probably is, but it may not be too late to avoid burnout. Rather than take that risk, pay more attention to your stress and use it as a tool, rather than a roadblock, to creating great performance.