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Are You Using Tension Correctly in Your Workplace? First, Be Sure to Let Go of Past Stress

August 10, 2015

This is a “follow-up article” to my last article entitled What You Believe, You Will Achieve.

Organizations need tension to create change according to T. Falcon Napier, an organizational scientist and creator of the Change Grid. Projects come and go. Appropriately, tension goes up and down as the workload and risks at work fluctuate. But do you let go of the old stress associated with the tensions from completed projects or old conflicts?

I know you’ve been there…the work pressure (or pressure at home or in relationships) and the associated mounting tension. It doesn’t matter what it is or the reason for it. It may exist for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks. And, then, suddenly it’s gone! Hopefully resolved. So, you take a deep breath and automatically relax, right? If the pressure and tension is gone, the stress should be gone too, right? Wrong! And, here’s what happens to cause the retention of stress.

Hebbian Yerkes Dodson Arousal Stress Graph

Hebbian Yerkes Dodson Arousal Stress Graph

Much like the people in the military who are in a battle zone or the police when they’re on-duty, we become hyper-vigilant when we are exposed to stress for extended periods of time. A ‘normal’ person has an ongoing stress-level of about 60% of capacity. That includes the “bad” stress and the “good” stress called eustress. As “bad” stress grows and accumulates, the mind has to move it somewhere to maintain sanity. It takes mental stress and converts it into physical response. This is called…wait for it…Conversion! Here are a few examples:

  •  A perpetual scanning of the environment to search for threats or the “What’s next?”
  • An increased state of anxiety that causes you to feel exhausted
  • Loss of connections to family and friends due to always being “on the lookout”
  • Overreaction to loud or unexpected noises or becoming easily agitated
  • Feeling like you need to be in a hurry, even when you don’t
  • Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
  • Becoming physically sick more easily than in the past

Here’s what is going on; much like physical pain that was needed when a part of your body needed to be cared for and has now become healed, sometimes the mind/body connection forgets to stop feeling the pain. (I.E., Phantom Limb) It remembers the sensation as it was previously, not as it is now. And, just the same, when you have been under stress for an extended period of time, your mind has become so used to being hyper-vigilant that it continues beyond the need for it. Does that make sense?

Consciously Remember to Dismiss Tension.

So, what can you do to return to what is a ‘normal’ stress level for you? One exercise you can try is to consciously remember to dismiss the need for the tension. It can be somewhat of an epiphany when you truly stop and consider, “Wait a minute! The reasons I used to be feeling so stressed have gone away and this means that I can stop being the way I was before when I was stressed in the past.” In its simplest form, your mind wants to know that it’s safe now and those things that were causing the stress are “in the past”. The only person that can dismiss this retained stress response is you. Process the event, project or argument in a way that lowers its importance for you in your new state. To help do this, allow yourself five minutes to do something similar to hypnosis; have the stresses and anxieties completely relieved by calming your thoughts, relaxing into an almost unconscious state (to your conscious awareness) and allowing yourself to:

  • See your surroundings more clearly and with brightness
  • Experience an overall sense of relaxation
  • Feel happiness for no reason
  • Bring a lightness into your body as you walk

As part of this exercise, replace your past stress belief system with new beliefs that fit today’s reality.

What kind of stress is in your workplace? Learn more about measuring organizational Workplace Stress here.

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