DE-STRESS YOUR ENVIRONMENT
by Dr. Beverly Potter
In stress management, people tend to focus on reducing dangerously high stimulation levels.
But there are times when prevails.
How to stay in optimal rangeObject of stress management
is to keep your body's activation
or stimulation level
within the optimal range.
When your activation level rises above the optimal range, the objective is to lower stimulation level back into the optimal range. When your activation level is low, act to stimulate activation back up into the optimal range.
Underactivation or understimulation
such as whenlethargy or boredom
Develop an Internal Monitor
Key to managing stress is an developing effective internal monitor.
Moderate activation (called the "optimal range")Observe Yourself
is correlated with high levels of performance.If you want to fine-tune yourself you must become aware of yourself. Observation of your internal responses tell you what you are experiencing now, how tense you are, and what you need.As you develop the sensitivity of your internal monitor and learn to manage stress responses, your personal power will increase. You will feel more in command of yourself and more able to handle difficult situations. As a result you'll probably take on more challenges and act with greater confidence when handling them.
Stressful EnvironmentsOther people will sense your confidence
and respond to you with greater respect.
Our environment stimulates us in different ways. According to researcher Albert Mehrabian the amount of uncertainty and information in the environment is the "load" of the environment. - Mehrabian's fascinating research into the impact of environmental factors is described in his book, Public Places, Private Spaces.
Low LoadEnvironments that are certain, known, or regular, where things are familiar and there is little new information, are "low load."High LoadEnvironments that are new, unusual, irregular, unknown, or contain a lot of new information are "high load."
UncertaintyThe more uncertain the environment, the more it contains the possibility of danger.Information
Uncertainty is a stressor.Environments with a lot of information to be processed are also stressing. Because we don't know what's out there, all the senses must operate. We mobilize into alertness, the optimal level to process information.
Engineering Environment LoadExampleCelia must prepare a report containing a lot of figures every Friday afternoon when her activation is way down and she just can't quite find the energy to work on it. Consequently, she ends up making a lot of errors and doing an inefficient job. Celia needs to stimulate or increase her activation, bringing it up into the optimal range. To accomplish this she could engineer her environment.
Increase or decrease the load of your environment to
keep yourself in the optimal range. When you that you are in the high critical
range, for example, lower your activation to bring yourself back into the
optimal range by reducing the load of your environment. Similarly, when
you are bored increase your activation or stimulation to move into the
optimal range by increasing the load of your environment. Most of us understand
this principle intuitively.
We often use potentially harmful methods
of increasing or decreasing activation levels
such as taking coffee, alcohol, or drugs.
By making simple changes in your environment you can regulate your stress
for optimal performance - and health.
Music pulls our heart strings. We respond both physically and emotionally. You might feel nostalgia when listening to Pomp and Circumstance, like dancing when listening to a disco tune, or maudlin listening to a love song.
Mood can be altered faster
with music than with drugs.Simple experimentLook through your collection of cassettes or CDs and select an instrumental with a simple, repetitive melody and a slow, even beat. Then select a second piece that has a fast, changing beat with a strong percussion emphasis, the more chaotic the better. Relax yourself until you feel calm. Play the low-load music and notice your internal reactions. How does it feel? What is your activation level? After a minute stop the music and relax again. Now play the high-load music and notice how you respond. Most likely you noticed a sizable increase in activation in less than a minute when listening to the music with a fast beat.ExampleCelia could increase her efficiency filling out the report forms if she had a radio in her office and switched it to an upbeat station. The high-load music would bring her stimulation up to the optimal range and the increased alertness would help her perform at her peak.
On the other hand, work requiring intense concentration can raise stimulation dangerously high. Here Celia would do better to turn the dial to a station that plays calming music because low-load music lowers stimulation level.
Color and Design
Lower stimulationSoft, muted colors and regular designs are low load and have a calming effect.
Increase stimulationBright colors such as reds, yellow, oranges, and bold designs in clashing colors
are high load and stimulating.
ExampleJack put an abstract paintings on one a wall in his office and a painting of a Hawaiian sunset on the other. Whenever he needed to calm down he projected himself into the sunset; when he needed a boost he looked instead at the abstract.Color of LightWith the flip of a light switch you can change the load of any environment - and your mood. Compare the affects of a soft-white light to that of a harsh-white one. This principle is used routinely in the theater. If you've been backstage you probably noticed banks of colored lights that can be turned on to help create the mood needed for the play.Idea:
You can transform a dreary,
depressingly gray day into a bright one
simply by wearing glasses with yellow lenses.
People are the highest load. A group of people, especially strangers, are extremely high load.
Even our closest friends can be unpredictable.
Increase stimulationGo to a party and stand in a crowd of people for entertainment.
Lower stimulationIf you want to get away, to "get your head together," go for a walk in the
woods or on the beach to avoid people.
ExampleCelia could have used this principle to help her complete the boring reports. Rather than sitting in her familiar, sterile office, she could have packed up her papers and gone to the cafeteria to write the report. The comings and goings of people, their talking and movements, provide a more stimulating environment and perked her up into the optimal zone.
Lower stimulationBaths are an age-old method of modulating body tempo. Stretching out in a tepid bath will relax you every time. If you are tense when you arrive home after work, a warm leisurely bath or dip in a hot tub will probably do the trick.Increase stimulationWhen you need to be perked up it is best to take a cold shower. For instance, if you have trouble getting started in the morning you might take a cold shower first
Lower stimulationLevel of hungerEat bland and familiar foods like mashed potatoesIncrease stimulationMilk and valerian tea
are natual relaxantsEat spicy or unusual food.Cayenne pepper and ginseng
are natural stimulants
Lower stimulationAfter a large meal, on the other hand, you might get drowsy because your energy has been detoured to digestion.
ExampleIf you must perform before a group, for example and you are nervous, you might eat large breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and hash browns to lower your stimulation level back into the optimal zone to perform at your peakIncrease stimulationA mild degree of hunger is stimulating.
ExampleIf you must do something that is a little boring, you can increase your stimulation level by grabbing a slice of toast, a piece of fruit, and a vitamin pack so that you have a nearly empty stomach. The mild hunger helps to push you up into the optimal range.
ExerciseIncrease stimulationImaginationWhen you are bored or depressed, vigorous exercise is a very good way ofLower stimulation
picking yourself up.
We tend to think the more exercise the better,
but this is not necessarily so.When you are already highly stressed, a mild light exercise such as a walkNote
around the block will help release tension so you can relax.When you have been highly activated all day, vigorous exercise would not be advised because you could exhaust yourself. Some people get into an exercise regime, sticking to it rigidly without checking their internal monitor to see what they actually need at the moment.
Take a reading on yourself and
then adjust the nature of your daily exercise.Increase stimulationAdventuresome or sexual fantasies perk your upLower stimulationFantasies about eating a wonderful ten-course meal and
your "pleasant fantasy" are relaxing.
Copyright © 1980, 1993, 1998: Beverly A. Potter, from "Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work", Ronin. All Rights Reserved. This article man be down loaded for person use. Any other use requires written permission from docpotter.
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