Have you ever noticed how much energy it takes to stew about something?
Stress is your body’s response to an undesirable situation. When you experience something which you perceive as stressful, the hormone adrenaline is released. Your heart beats faster, your breath quickens and your blood pressure rises. Your liver increases its output of blood sugar, and blood flow is diverted to your brain and muscles. You’re now ready to “fight or take flight.” After the threat passes, your body relaxes again.
You may be able to handle stressful situations occasionally, but when it happens repeatedly, the effects compound over time and can have negative effects on your health. Long-term, stress has been shown to cause physical problems including heart disease, high blood pressure and low immunity.
You can either reduce stress with energy deposits or increase stress with energy drains. Some people expose themselves to constant energy drains, so to reduce stress, you must seek to minimize things that sap your energy.
When I began my speaking business in 1992, I joined seven professional organizations to expand my network of contacts. After a year of attending a plethora of meetings, I dreaded the thought of going to more. I stepped back and evaluated each organization in terms of my return on time: What do I receive from this membership? Is my investment of time and money worth the benefits I receive? Has this organization directly impacted my bottom line? Everything can have some benefit to your career. Ask yourself what specific benefits you can trace to your involvement and determine its worth. I quit all but three associations, to which I still belong.
Worrying can be a big waste of time. While legitimate worries are real concerns and problems to be solved, other worries may never happen, such as, “The company lost money this quarter. I wonder if that means we’re in trouble and I’m going to lose my job.” This type of worrying is often a symptom of insecurity and reflects a lack of self-confidence. Worrying about the future doesn’t prevent it—but it can have mental and physical effects including nervous fatigue and lost focus.
So make an appointment with yourself to think through your worry. Start a brainstorming session with, “What should I do about…” and write down possible solutions. If you discover there’s nothing you can actively do to reduce your concerns, it’s probably not something you should be expending energy on. Promise yourself you’ll worry about it only when and if it happens. You can only afford to spend time and energy on legitimate concerns.
“I simply cannot stand that man.” “I can’t believe she did that.” Unresolved conflict and anger is self-destructive, wears down your mental strength and emotional resilience, causes fatigue and leaves you feeling out of control. Instead of letting conflicts eat at you, determine the most expedient way to resolve the situation. You could choose to give in to the other person. You could settle on a compromise and give up something to get something. You could develop new alternatives so both of you still reach your goals and feel good about the situation. You always have a choice in how you handle a conflict. Choose the best reaction, then let go of the situation.
Friendship is a delicate balance of give and take. When you’re having a rough time, you need support. Sometimes, your friends need you. In the end, it all balances out, right? But what if it doesn’t? I’ve had people in my life that took and took and never gave back. I no longer have a friendship with those people. Friendship isn’t a substitute for therapy.
While these are all examples of things that can sap your energy, there are many more. To discover what else is causing you stress, you can create a chart that lists “things I enjoy” on one side and “things I dislike” on the other. Once you identify the things that sap your energy, you can identify possible ways to eliminate them. The important thing is to recognize that you have choices and options in the way you live and respond to stressful situations.
This article was published in January 2009 and has been updated. Photo by Ground Picture/Shutterstock
Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity PRO," ® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload and personal productivity.