I imagine you are a high achiever. You want more, you hustle, you want to be at the top, have the best team, achieve the pres- ident’s award, or get a fantastic rating on your annual performance review. You want it all. Many of us do. But that leads to a dangerous condition that I call the “Over Trilogy”—the fact that too many of us are constantly overwhelmed, overstressed, and overtired.
We feel constantly overwhelmed as our responsibilities at work and at home continue to grow. We attempt to answer emails between meetings, eat on the run living on protein bars, create some structure for our teams, respond to the boss, and then look after our family. Our boss has expectations of us, our partners have different expectations, and then we have expectations of ourselves about what we can achieve. We want so much more in life, but we don’t know where to begin. Click To Tweet
Stress is Winning.
If you are like most of the leaders I work with, you are more stressed than ever before. And you’re not alone.
A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that average stress levels in the United States rose yet again from 4.9 to 5.1 on a 10-point stress scale. In addition, 24% of adults reported being extremely stressed, compared to 18% a year earlier.
Chronic stress impairs our ability to shift our attention. A 2009 study of stressed-out medical students found that stress affects the attention-regulating area of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The study’s author shared, “It’s reassuring that this attention-shifting deficit seems to go away after the stress is reduced, but such deficits are similar to what we see in some stress-related psychiatric disorders.”
More than that, stress is a silent killer. We can’t see it or touch it or smell it. But we can see the impacts of it. Chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide), and more than 75% of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
Overwhelm and stress leads to exhaustion. Too many of us (yes, I’m guilty of it, too) are living an around-the-clock schedule, staying up too late or getting up too early in a futile effort to get it all done. Chronic lack of sleep impacts our mental alertness, productivity, attitude, and emotions. But it can also lead to serious medical conditions and shorten life expectancy.
Take the Chip off Your Shoulder.
Even if we make it into the bed at a reasonable hour, how often do we lie in bed tossing and turning, letting overwhelm and overstress take over our minds? I often refer to the overwhelm and overstress combination as Chip, like a chip on your shoulder (apologies to my friend whose real name is Chip). I think of Chip as this vicious green gremlin who visits late at night. He taunts you relentlessly, reminding you of everything you didn’t get done today. He’s ugly, and he distracts you.
What does the Over Trilogy have to do with attention? Everything! Overwhelm, overstress, and exhaustion impacts our health and our relationships. A constant level of overwhelming stress and fatigue deeply affects our attention and takes up valuable real estate in our brain, thus negatively impacting the way our brain processes information. This leads to decreased productivity and eventually decreased results. This triggers even more feelings of overwhelm, overstress, and overtired. The result is a never-ending, vicious cycle.
It’s time to punch Chip in the face. Tell him he’s not welcome, and decide that you will no longer be overwhelmed, overstressed, and overtired. It’s no way to live. Instead, choose to live a meaningful life filled with significant moments.