What, Me Worry? The Impact of Stress on Self-Awareness
Keeping up with all the nuances of Self-Awareness can seem intimidating to anyone who is just discovering the importance of this EQ tenet. If you’ve read my recent article But Now I See, you might have been stricken with the notion that there’s far more to Self-Awareness than you bargained for. But the Blind Spots I discussed should feel familiar to any professional at any level of career. In other words, in an ever-changing world that’s peppered with roadblocks to EQ, we’re all in this challenge together.
Having exposed you to those blind spots, I’d like to direct your attention to another contributor to the Self-Awareness challenge. It’s also something we’re all familiar with as a predicament that chips away at our health, well-being and social psychology. At the same time, it’s vital to retaining grit and achieving prosperity. It’s known as stress, and rather than being eliminated, it needs to be balanced.
All living organisms need to experience stress in order to survive another day. In prehistoric times, our ancestors endured predatory stress, prompting the fight-or-flight responses that saw them through. In modern life, where there is a significantly reduced threat of physical attack by others, that ancient function of stress is triggered by a whole new set of stimuli. Fascinatingly, just the right amount of contemporary stress can actually strengthen your resilience and motivate you toward career success!
But with a new world comes new-world complications. For example, we as humans tend to carry self-imposed stress with us, often to the point that it becomes emotionally debilitating. Under a veil of perpetual tension, one’s perception of their environment becomes distorted. That’s right! Your brain is literally fogged when stress is involved. This predicament not only suspends your stress level long after the cause of stress has been resolved, but it renders you unable to recognize the new stress indicators going forward, placing your career in a suspended state of disarray.
The Weight of Water
Here’s a paraphrasing of a profound analogy for stress, created by professional coaches Marc & Angel Chernoff. A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired, “How heavy is this glass of water?”
The answers called out ranged from eight ounces to twenty ounces.
The psychologist replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued. “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed– incapable of doing anything.”
The Lonely Movie Set
Permit me to share one of my very favorite stress and self-awareness analogies.
Each of us lives as the leading character in our own movie. Yes, YOU are a movie star! In everyday practice, you share the marquis with other supporting stars in your own movie: your partner, your family, your close friends, your colleagues, etc. You interact, exchange dialogue, and support each other just like in the ideal Hollywood “feel-good movie”. However, when tension is in the air, you become near-sighted, barely able to recognize your co-stars through the fog of stress. Suddenly, the names of these key players in your life are taken down from the marquis. You can barely make out their forms. Now, they’re all extras.
Unless stress is recognized and addressed right away, it blinds us not only to self-awareness, but also to communicating effectively with our colleagues and others around us. In the coming articles, we’ll use this valuable insight, and combine it with what we know so far to become even more self-aware!