Are you feeling long-term effects of being in a state of constant stress? Is stress causing slow but steady havoc on your health and/or relationships?

For years I have encountered numerous leaders in organizations who report being burnt out and characterize their state of being as “over-stressed”. Several exhibit physical symptoms of prolonged stress, including heart palpitations, anxiety, low energy, high blood pressure, and dangerous distraction.  Some have reported sudden chronic physical conditions and even heart attacks influenced by their stress.

Each person I talk to wants to “manage stress” more effectively but feels almost hopeless. The cycle of doing everything, pleasing everyone, and achieving more and more has become ingrained in us as a natural way of living in modern society. It has become a “normal” mode of existence and achievement to many of us.

Trying to remedy the stress and squeeze in some stress relieving regimens such as yoga or meditation into already full lives is difficult for many. Many see stress reducing techniques or activities as nice to have luxuries to start with the best of intentions. Seeing them as luxuries, they are the first to go when to-do lists and crazy schedules take center stage and override any seemingly “unessential but nice-to-have” activity we can do without.

These folks are aware of their stressed state and know what activities to engage in to help relieve some of their stress. Here’s the ironic rub–many report that taking the time it takes to engage in those activities just causes more stress!

And since most of you reading this already know about the physical ramifications of long-term stress—I am going to offer the next few sentences up as mere “reminders”.

Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a network of nerves that run through our spinal cord and regulate/affect every organ in our body. This network has two branches: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.

The sympathetic branch of our nervous system takes over under stress, and puts our bodies into a “fight or flight” mode. It directs our adrenal glands to release the hormones of adrenalin and cortisol to prepare us for a fight or to run away. These hormones accelerate our heartbeat, increase our breathing rate, generate increased glucose, and create a host of other physical responses.

Once the threat is over, the parasympathetic branch takes over and helps calm and relax our bodies and bring them back to a “normal” state.

But what if the stressors are always there and don’t go away? What if our sympathetic nervous system keeps releasing those hormones day in and day out—and our bodies stay in that fight or flight mode?

We are smart people here—it doesn’t take much to figure out the long-term consequences of this are not good for us.

Our bodies are human and physical—so ignoring that fact is causing chronic stress, illness, and even fatality.

So if quitting our jobs and moving to a rural island for a simpler lifestyle isn’t a viable option at this point in our lives—what is?

As someone who has been keenly interested in and researching this whole concept of stress and our bodies for years now—I’d like to offer three mindset shifts to try out immediately to help reduce some stress that may be self-induced.

The simple truth is that many of the situations we are likening in our minds to “fight or flight” or danger situations are indeed not that important or dangerous.  In fact, some of our own behavioral patterns may indeed be creating unnecessary stress for ourselves.

Mindset shift #1:   From Limitless to Limits:  Set more boundaries and say no more often

Feeling overwhelmed is often a result of doing too much. How often do you say “no” to things? How often do you negotiate boundaries of the amount you can handle at one time? And are the consequences of doing so that you imagine in your head real? And if you think they are indeed real—are they dire? Are they more important than your physical health?

Try limiting the things you agree to do or participate in. Be selective and prioritize based on overall value. You cannot do everything and be everything to everyone as much as you may like to think you can.

 Mindset shift #2:  From External to Internal:  Quit feeding on external validation and achievement

Most of us who are high achievers gain validation from others for our achievements. We get used to the praise, accolades, and stature our continuous achievements bring us. We raise our own bars to maintain that stature and success in the eyes of others. More success means more validation. Not achieving means…well–no validation. Learning to get our validation internally rather than from others goes a long way in harnessing some of the self-induced stress that comes from this vicious cycle.

Mindset shift #3:  From Perfection in Everything to Focus on Important : Don’t sweat the small stuff

So what happens if you don’t send holiday cards this year? Or if your junk drawer isn’t as orderly as you would like? Or if you break away at lunch time to work out? Or if you don’t attend an unnecessary meeting and send a delegate instead? What if you stopped worrying about all the little things you impose on yourself, and focused on the really big things instead? Perhaps you would realize that there really are only a few very big things?

Stress is a killer. There are lifestyle changes we can make and habits we can adopt to help shift our mindsets and deal with stress more effectively.

The mindset we bring with us day in and day out is critically related to our stress experience of situations.   Making a shift in how we look at things greatly influences how we experience them.

As always, drop me a note with your experiences and comments. I love hearing and learning from all of them…