Burnout to Leadership

Ep#19 Top 10 tips to manage chronic stress and fight or flight

January 28, 2022 Dex Randall Season 1 Episode 19
Burnout to Leadership
Ep#19 Top 10 tips to manage chronic stress and fight or flight
Show Notes Transcript

If you have chronic stress and are constantly in fight-or-flight, you're crippling your body's ability to sleep, heal, digest food and restore itself.

Today I talk about why being in chronic fight-or-flight is a problem and give you my top 10 tips to overcome this.

Hi, everyone. My name is Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout to Leadership Podcast where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello, my friends, this is Dex. Welcome back to the podcast. And today, I'm happy to say we're going to delve into how to manage the constant triggering of fight or flight, that almost inevitably comes along with chronic stress and anxiety and burnout, because if you don't have this skill, you're basically blowing about all over the place in the storm of your amygdala. And I'd just like to thank my friend Jen Frey, who's also a coach, for her suggestion that I make this episode. She was listening to Episode Four on the loss of invincibility and being the go to person in your workplace. It's all about what happens when we max out on work and then crash in burnout, the effects of chronic stress on the mind and body. Basically, when she listened to that, she wanted to know what to do if her fight or flight was constantly triggered. So, Jen, listen on, my friend. This one's for you. In this podcast, I'm gonna give you my best tips for dealing with fight or flight, or for some of you freeze. But first, why do we need to talk about it anyway? And really it's because fight or flight plays a very important role in the dynamics of burnout. It's part of how really excellent people like you and me are brought to our knees. This is how we get into trouble. A perfectly useful fight or flight response blows out in burnout, and I'm gonna really lay out for you here how that happens. Fight or flight burnout start look something like this. We have some situational stress and anxiety at work that over time builds up, and it starts to take over our minds. We start to get a very negative focus, always thinking about problems and failure, and that depletes our energy and enthusiasm. We begin to be exhausted. We ruminate at night, losing sleep and becoming more depleted. We get mad at ourselves thinking we should be able to fix it. Our mood becomes blacker and we're irritated, frustrated, short tempered more often with ourselves, but also with others. We feel angry, resentful that we can't get a break. Our relationships with all and sundry are affected inside and outside work. We start to feel under siege and then we withdraw. And if people come after us, we sometimes bite back a bit defensively. I think you know what I mean there. Or sometimes just to have sheer, frustrated exhaustion. All the while our energy and usually our performance are sliding downhill. We're feeling very bad about that trying to work hard to fix it. And many of the moving parts of burnout are actually closed loops leading finally to a state of hopelessness, despair that anything can or will improve. Does any of that sound familiar? Did you hear anything there that relates to your personal experience? If you're in or near burnout, my advice is always to get help, because burnout, even though it starts out episodic, deteriorates over time and finally becomes constant. In burnout, there's a cyclical repetition of chronic stress, anxiety, and depletion that basically keeps us in fight or flight for prolonged periods more persistently and ever more often. So let's look at how that works because it's super helpful to understand this. So first we have an anxious thought. Perhaps we're worried we can't get a job done on time. In reality, getting the job done on time might not be a life or death proposition. If we're already maxed out and anxiety is gonna seem catastrophic, the last straw, and that thought will trigger our amygdala to produce adrenaline because it assumes that we're in danger now. The amygdala can't tell the difference between anxiety, which is fear for the future, and ordinary fear for something that's happening now. So it reacts as if the consequence of not getting the job done puts us in actual danger right now. It triggers stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, when we go into fight or flight. Our body reacts to those hormones by shutting down non emergency functions such as digestion, procreation, immune system, growth, rest and repair, sleep, conversational hearing, advanced cognitive function, building new memory, and so on. And it uses those same hormones to speed up our heart rate and breathing, send more blood to our muscles, increase blood pressure, dump sugar in our bloodstream to give us more energy, and keep the amygdala alert to further threat. And when you think about all those reactions, they make perfect sense if a tiger is about to wrap its teeth around your head, not so much if you're failing on a deadline next Tuesday. But here's another effect. It reduces our ability to take in non essential information like human speech, so teamwork goes straight out the window. It reduces our analytical problem solving capacity and ability to remember things. It makes us jittery, unreceptive, and defensive or aggressive. It leaves us hyper vigilant, especially tuned into possible threat. And from there, our inner critic jumps onboard and gives us a stream of other worried, anxious, and fearful thoughts, which become the threat that retriggers our amygdala, perpetuating the cycle. By this time, there's little or no chance, we're gonna come out of fight or flight since we're trapped in the cycle of anxious and fearful thinking, which triggers more adrenaline, which triggers more anxious and fearful thinking, and so on. There's also, at this point, not enough brain power online to get any work done. So, probably we then become confused, and a bit panicky. Now, if there had been a tiger threat, we could come out of the fight or flight cycle, because assuming we don't die, the tiger will eventually wander off to maul someone else. After a little spell, the fear hormones stop being produced, our nervous system calms down, we'll shake off all that excess nervous energy, and our system will return to normal. At this point, of course, we become receptive to continuing our every day life. But, with no tiger, no physical danger is present, that means there's no off switch for our adrenaline. There's no signal that we are out of danger. So now we're left for this super abundant flow of adrenaline, coming in quick repeated bursts as we keep thinking anxious thoughts. So let's think about what that means for us. If we remember what adrenaline does, and imagine those effects becoming frequent, and then chronic, where does that leave us? So okay, in chronic stress, when we're triggered, these functions are chronically

shut down:

Digestion, procreation, immune system, growth, rest and repair, sleep, conversational hearing, advanced cognitive function, building new memory. Even oxytocin production. So if you've got chronic stress and your sex drive is low, you have indigestion, you're not sleeping much, you have brain frog. Brain frog See, I've got it now. Or chronic low grade infections, loneliness combined with a low desire to be around people. If you've got any of those, or all of those, that could be why. Also in chronic stress, these functions are chronically

elevated:

Heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, blood sugar, which when it's chronic leads to weight gain, chronic inflammation and metabolic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's, and it seems, cancer. Also, blood is routed away from organs into muscles. Hyper alertness is elevated. Aggression. Aging, of course, which speeds up under chronic stress. And for an example, I think of myself as a triathlete, I once had a heart rate of 180 standing chatting before a casual swim, and I regularly maintained a heart rate of 200 plus on beach runs. It's unsurprising then really for me, that I had my heart attack while I was running on the beach. So finally, and I do save the best until last, if you're in constant fight or flight, what can you do? Jen Frey listening. Here are my top 10 tips, and stay tuned, I'm gonna do a little meditation at the end as well.

Okay, number one:

I do always suggest that people in burnout get coaching. And I'm a coach, but really, I'm a coach in burnout, because it worked for me. It's really amazing at helping you break out of fight or flight. And when I say that my clients emerge from the thick of burnout in the first three or four weeks, this is what I mean. They turn their adrenaline response down, and start enjoying themselves

a bit. Two:

I encourage you to notice and recognize when you're thinking an anxious thought, that there is no immediate danger. That you're just in an anxiety loop. If you can step back and become aware of your brain's reaction to events in your life and just see that as thoughts that seem protective, but in this case aren't, you start to regain a little perspective, and therefore power.

Number three:

Step outside the workplace, if you can, into the fresh air. Let in a new experience. Listen to different sounds. Feel the air on you. Look at the vastness of the sky. It can also help put a

new perspective on your worries. Four:

I highly recommend meditation for the following reasons. Number one, it calms the breath, calms the heart rate, calms the body and the mind. Brings you into the present moment. An awareness of the present moment, where generally, there's no disaster happening. And as you become centered and grounded, you might experience a sense of pervading calm. That things are basically okay, basically workable. It helps you tune into yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, your body, and that alone can help you calm your nervous system, and bring your heart rate and breathing rate down. And this promotes a sense of safety. It can also inspire more positive

feelings towards yourself. Number five:

Always notice the power you do have to think, feel, and respond to your life as you wish. Notice that you may have some power of choice in ways your mind is not acknowledging when you're in the struggle,

when you're in anxious thinking. Six:

Actually listen to the inner critic when you're in an anxiety loop. Become aware of the thoughts, watch them go by. You don't actually need to endorse every word of every thought. If you hear a thought that's unhelpful, just choose to let it go, and offer yourself a more encouraging one. This is one of the practices we teach in coaching, because no one ever produced their best work from a brain telling them they're useless. We humans, of course, need a little bit of discipline. Our brains perform better over the long run with the carrot on the stick.

Number seven:

Much of our suffering in burnout comes from our beliefs, and most of our beliefs, we learned as children. I can often pinpoint the age when, for example, I was told never to be angry. Or I was told, I must get a job done quickly when somebody's waiting for it. So when you tune into an anxious thought, ask yourself, "Does it index back to a moment in your childhood?" Because if it does, you possibly have an unconscious belief that you have learned then, that's been playing out ever since. Maybe that's not very helpful for you, and it's just a belief, so you can change it. And also, as a side note, if that child, you, was upset when they learned this belief, can you go back and offer that child some solace now from your

adult self? Number eight:

So going back to the problem of worrying that you can't complete a task by a deadline, you can always reframe the problem. There's always a little bit of space for that. Start considering what you can do by the deadline. Ask your brain, if you could complete by the deadline, how would you do that? When we look past the anxiety, solutions become more accessible. Also ask, if other tasks on my to do list could be delayed, what could I achieve then? Challenge your beliefs about the parameters of

the problem. And number nine:

Be present to yourself, aware of your thoughts and emotions. It's really very freeing when you're stuck in a problem to just go and centre in on your thoughts and emotions. Learn how to be with your current emotion, see what's been driving you so hard, and notice that you're feeling suggest energy in your body. Letting them be is always an option. If you accept and observe them, for example, in meditation, they're basically gonna pass through your body and disperse anyway.

And ten:

Lastly, in everything, I always suggest you be your own champion. Decide to love and accept yourself just as you are, there is no greater power than this. After all, anxiety is just what humans have. It's no biggie, right? It doesn't really matter. So that's my 10 tips. And what I'm gonna do now is I'm gonna offer a quick and simple three breath meditation. And please, I think it goes without saying, do not do this now if you're driving or doing anything where you need to focus. Please stay safe. But if you're not, then just pause for a minute, put your hand on your heart, connect with your heart, and close your eyes if it's safe to do so. Take a deep breath in and hold it. Sense your energy, the life force filling your lungs, and breathe out slowly letting your shoulders drop with your breath. Take another deep breath in and hold, filling your heart with fresh energy. You have a good heart, a good servant always there for you. Breathe gently out, letting your body relax more. Take another deep breath and hold, and see yourself as a tiny human standing on this Earth, this planet. You have a right to be here just like everyone else. Breathe out the goodness of this knowledge. Just breathing normally now, give yourself this moment, a moment for you, your time to get what you need. And offer yourself gentle kindness and acceptance. Offer yourself compassion for your humanity. Notice that your heart, yourself, your intentions are basically good. Know that you are perfect as you are. You are loved. And open your eyes. When you offer yourself these practices to counter anxiety, that is an act of self care. It will help you access the peace that you seek. And when you do that in this moment, in any moment, the sun's gonna shine for you. You connect to the human being ness that is the real you, and then better sleep, energy, mood, relationships, and joy will become possible for you. Even just in those few moments, notice if you feel any different now. And if you do, know that you can revisit that state at any time. Thank you for listening today. Love that you're here, and if you're in burnout, you must come and talk to me at burnout.dexrandall.com, you can book in, and I will see you again. Thank you for being here and have a beautiful day. If you are in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you and let's make a plan to fix it.