Friday, April 10, 2020

A Personal Example

Reducing Stress

Graph by Dr. Rich Blonna | Newest Stress Curve.


In a previous column, I introduced Reduce as a line of defense against stress. If you recall Reduce, as a line of defense against stress is based on helping you find your optimal level of stimulating activities and demands. When you find this level, you will operate at peak efficiency and get the most out of the activities and demands you choose to take on.  

Stimulating activities are things that you enjoy and consider fun such as going fishing, playing golf, reading a book or in my case running for City Council. Demands are things you must do such as clean the house, get your oil changed, etc.   

Neither stimulating activities nor demands are inherently stressful, they just require time and energy. Unfortunately, our time and energy are not limitless, so we have to be careful about protecting both.  

Let me explain 

Both stimulating activities and demands require time and energy. This is why even fun activities can become stressors if they require too much of your time and energy or if you engage in them without cutting back on other things. The pressure of trying to juggle too many activities and demands can lead to feelings of being unable to cope, and therefore becoming stressed. This drains your energy and robs you of your zest for living. 

Take a look at the Stress Curve graphic that accompanies this column. The vertical line shows your level of performance and the horizontal line shows your level of demand. As you can see in the graphic, too little stimulation results in being bored, unmotivated, and performing at a low level. At this level of functioning, you are not asking much of your body and mind and therefore are not getting much in return. This can be stressful, especially if you are the kind of person who expects more out of life 

As you begin to add more activities and demands, you start to challenge yourself. When you do this, you start to perform at a higher level. This brings you out of the stress zone and into the challenge zone. You feel energized, competent, and able to cope with almost anything. 

If you keep adding challenges you eventually will reach your “optimal” level of functioning, that point where you are doing just enough and at just the right level of intensity to function at peak performance.  At this point, you are busy and working hard but the activities you are engaged in are challenges, not stressors because you enjoy them and feel you can cope with them.   

From this point, if, you continue to add more demands and stimulation, you will fall out of your optimal level and your performance will start to decline. You begin to notice that the same activities that once were fun have now become stressors. You become overloaded, and you reach a point where you simply can’t keep up with all of the things you are involved in.      

The only way out of falling into the trap of going beyond your optimal level is through experience. Because we are all different and at different points in our lives, we all have different peak performance levels. The only way to know what they are is to push through them and be mindful that things have changed. 

My Personal Experience 

I have pushed through peak performance at many different stages of my life. I’ve had to make tough choices regarding which demands and commitments I had to let go of and which things I had to refocus on. The last time this happened to me was in the year following Hurricane Irma. I was writing two books, involved in two clubs and a community service organization, trying to get my self-help business to the next level and stay true to my fitness and mental health regimen.  

I was asked by my former University employer to come back and teach an online stress-management course. I knew that would require a lot of time and energy, but I also loved the work, it paid well, and I missed the contact with students. I decided to end my involvement in one of the clubs and the community organizations to free up the time and energy I’d need to start teaching online again. 

I knew I made the right decision because as soon as I cut back, I immediately felt relief. It was like a big weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I have really enjoyed teaching my class since then. 

Now, I face another decision to cut back on my demands. In the next week I am declaring my candidacy to run for a seat on the Marco Island City Council in the November 2020 election. It will require a lot of time and energy and I know that I need to give up a couple of things to stay at peak performance. I’ve already stopped writing for another publication and have decided to stop my Stress Less Live More Column for the Coastal Breeze. 

I love writing this column, but I know that I cannot continue to give it the time and energy needed to produce the high-quality content you, my readers, deserve. It has been a fun two years (almost 60 columns) and I don’t regret a minute of it. I look forward to serving you in my new role as a City Councilor in 2021.  

Thanks for all of your support and remember to Stress Less and Live More. 

Dr. Rich 

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