Stress Makes Us Stupid!
When I was working in a high-pressure environment, I thought that stress made me perform better. My colleagues and I wore it like a badge of honour. If you weren’t getting to work early and going home late, then you couldn’t be doing the job well.
Don’t get me wrong, the right level of stress does enhance performance. Targets can be motivating and deadlines exciting. But stress is linked to fear – not able to get the job done for example – and when fear becomes intense or relentless, the stress turns ‘bad’. That’s when the cracks will appear.
This has nothing to do with how good or bad at your job you are. Bad stress creeps up when you are not looking and before you know it, you can’t make balanced decisions and your judgement flies out of the window. Chances are you will look and act aggressively, ruining any hope that someone will step in to help.
This is perfectly normal! As humans we are a bundle of logic and emotions (thoughts and feelings). But when we experience intense negative emotions, logic doesn’t get a look in.
There is good reason for this!
Many years ago, our ancestors had to react quickly in order to stay alive. Imagine you are asleep in your cave, when suddenly an angry looking bear appears at the entrance! There is no time to weigh up the pro’s and con’s, make a plan etc. Instead, your subconscious does its job by letting your emotions highjack your logic.
In this state of heightened fear, the blood will immediately leave your stomach and go to your upper body and legs. Survival chemicals, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol flood your system to make you superhuman. You now have the best chance of survival and when you do, you will feel fantastic that evening around the campfire as you tell your story!
But, if there is no let-up in the fear and you become tired, your blood will ‘thicken’ to reduce the bleeding that injury is about to cause. This process reduces the blood-flow to the brain and makes it even more difficult to think logically.
This is exactly the response your body is having when you are experiencing unrelenting stress in today’s environment. Your body doesn’t know the difference between bad stress and useful fear. In this state, you have no access to the prefrontal cortex, which is the logical and creative part of the brain that solves problems and sees opportunity.
Therefore, stress makes us superhuman in the very short term but when there is no let-up it makes us stupid! (Not to mention a host of long-term health effects)
For tips about avoiding bad stress, see my next blog…. Make Stress Your Friend