“…the rigor of corporate athletics is often even more demanding than that of professional athletes. In my world, one does not have the luxury of an off-season…”

– Arthur Blank, President & CEO of Home Depot

Overview

Later this week, we’re going to be releasing Episode 1 | Part 2 of our High Performance Lab podcast. In this episode we’re going to dive deep into stress management and discuss six recommendations for managing stress. Our recommendations can be leveraged by anyone looking to be proactive and get a hold of their stress but because stress is such a broad topic we’re going to tailor these strategies towards “Corporate Athletes” and some of our friends over at Optel Group. Crucial to the topic is understanding that stress is actually healthy. Our stress response is part of our biological software or operating system that is programmed for survival. If the concept of “fight or flight” sounds familiar, you are on the right track, and we’ll sprinkle in some environmental and evolutionary context to consider. The issues with stress really start to take shape around the topic of chronic stress which impacts more than 25% of Americans.

What is Stress?

If you were to look up the definition of stress you’d understand why it’s a useless definition for scientists because the term is so subjective. Merriam Webster defines stress as “a constraining force or influence, such as:….” [1]

  • a force exerted when one body or body part presses on, pulls on, pushes against, or tends to compress or twist another body or body part; especially :the intensity of this mutual force commonly expressed in pounds per square inch
  • the deformation caused in a body by such a force
  • a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation
  • a state resulting from a stress; especially :one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium job-related stress

The list of definitions circulating are mind boggling. But you get the point. Scientists use more informal definitions, something along the lines of, “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change” [2]. At Perform True, we like to think of stress in terms of our species’ survival mechanism. We’re programmed to respond to certain stressors in our environments – those stressors can be:

  • physical (e.g. a phsyical force being exerted upon you, like a tree falling on your leg or a street fight);
  • mental & emotional (e.g. stressing about relationships, economic or financial concerns, etc.);
  • metabolic (e.g. stress which impacts your internal biological processes the result of things like poor nutrition, virus, disease, etc.);
  • environmental (like sensing a predator in your area – a shark in the water, or your boss hovering behind your desk). Alluded to earlier, stress in natural amounts is healthy. Chronic stress is the issue and it’s defined in simple terms as consistently elevated levels of stress and it’s associated hormonal imbalances that lead to a host of health issues and impact to our metabolic processes. We’ll dive into the more details including the common signs and symptoms of stress on the podcast. Stay tuned.

The Stress Response

So how do our bodies respond to stress? In summary it’s through a series of steps and interactions that start and finish within our brain’s command center: we perceive or identify a stressor, engage our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to send signals to our adrenal cortex and pituitary glands to trigger a hormonal response, and the result is heightened senses, higher blood pressure, heart rate and lung capacity. All designed to enable us to respond to danger, or perceived danger, and survive. We’ll dive into the details later this week but for further reading check out: Harvard Health – Understanding the Stress Response [3]

Stress in America: Glaring statistics from the apa

The APA conducts a few very important studies each year. One of them is “Stress in America: Coping with Change” – which highlights the impact of digital adoption and technology on America’s rising levels of stress. At Perform True, we like to refer to technology as both “the gift and the curse”. ..so without spoiling all the podcast discussion, here are a few metrics from the study [4]:

  • Percentage % of adults that own a particular device: Computers, 90% | Smartphones, 74% | Tablets, 55%
  • Increased Social Media Adoption (Adults): from 7% in 2005 to 65% in 2015
  • Increased Social Media Adoption (Young Adults, 18 to 29): from 12% in 2005 to over 90% in 2015
  • Percentage of employed Americans who are “constant checkers” of digital/social: over 46%
  • Employed Americans who admitted to constant checking cited stress levels averaging 6.0/10.0; about 36% higher than “non-constant checkers”

evolution of stress: same hardware & software, different environment

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value of humans over all other organisms and species. To a certain extent we all ascribe to this belief wheter directly or indirectly. Over time our species has developed the habit of trying to play god, and we’ve seeked to control or play a part in everything on our planet. And then some. The human push for control is always superceded, though, by nature and the environments we inhabit. Our environments will always be an omnipotent force that we cannot fully can control even if to a certain extent we can manipulate it.

Our hard-coded biological responses to stress have remained the same for thousands of years. The same response programmed to save us during periods of starvation, tribal attacks or when being stalked by a sabre tooth tigether is the same operating system we have to put us on high alert we perceive or identify stress today. Even at home, the office, in a social setting or in these new digital playgrounds we inhabit so often, we are not fully in control of our biological response to these environments.

So as our environments have continued to dictate and our stress response is still in OS 1.0, our new cultural and social constructs create environments that actually trigger our stress and survival response much more often than thousands of years ago; to the point where chronic stress is the #2 contributor to chronic disease in our country, second only to high sugar and insulin resistance.

Six Stress Management strategies for corporate athletes

Here is a preview of the 6 stress managemnet strategies we’re going to discuss later this week on the High Performance Lab podcast…

  • (6) Managing Workplace Expectations Effectively
  • (5) Disconnecting From Digital
  • (4) Overhauling Your Nutrition
  • (3) Getting Going: Movement
  • (2) Developing a Mindfulness Practice
  • (1) The Importance of Intention and Routine: “Failing to Prepare is Prepairing to Fail”