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Stress is that most tragic of all emotional burdens, because most of us struggle with it to different degrees, most of us struggle with it all our lives, and it can do incredible damage in so many ways,

And worst of all it doesn’t have to be that way. At all. Decades of solid science tell us that we can not only manage but defeat stress. banish it from our brains, remove it from our minds, turn it into nothing.

Because in reality, that’s just what it is. It’s all in our minds. Literally

In my case, nearly 30 years of untreated stress, triggered by a combination of a high-pressure industry, a very clear dose of imposter syndrome, and compounded by nearly 50 years of a variety of mental illnesses, was nearly my undoing.

As with most untreated chronic stress, the usual result is burnout. Physical and emotional exhaustion, and many times, much worse.

And as I said, the most tragic part of all, is that it doesn’t have to be that way. It never had to be that way.

And even if you don’t think you’re struggling with stress, you could be wrong. Many people feel they thrive on a certain baseline of stress, assuming it’s just the nature of their personality, or their job, or even that’s them a competitive advantage in life.

But not realizing that it’s not necessary and it’s really not healthy.

Stress Can Be Simple

For all its complexities, stress and it’s very hard to very simple. It’s how we let things get to us. It’s not the things. It’s not the stressors, the things that cause a stress.

It’s the way we deal with them, manage them, process them. Decide whether they affect us or not. If you learn how to manage her stress, you lose and gain much.

The Holy Grail of stress management is finding a sweet middle ground – the right amount of stress at just the right time to help you perform at your peak, and the tipping point where too much stress impacts thinking, performance, decision making, and physical health.

Appropriate stress is perfectly natural, even essential. The human mind has been hardwired since the origin of the species to deal with threats and dangers, the fight-or-flight phenomenon.

But the failure to manage stress, too much stress too often, can result in regular overdosing on adrenaline and cortisol, which, according to a recent Inc story “increases your risk of anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep issues, memory and concentration impairment, and other conditions.”

The Stress Response

When faced with a threat, hormones take over first. It starts with a rush of adrenaline (or epinephrine) and norepinephrine through your body to prepare for instant action.

Your heart rate increases and blood rushes to your muscles, giving them what can feel like superhuman power or speed. Airways in the lungs are opened to allow you to take in more oxygen and send it to your brain for increased performance.

If the danger or threat persists, a spike in glucose is triggered to provide a jolt of extra energy to your body and brain to improve attention, alertness, and clarity of thinking.

Cortisol can also prepare your organs to better resist stress, pain, or injury and suppress non-emergency functions that the body believes are not essential in that moment of danger (like reproduction).

Stress is an essential short-term coping skill, a way for the body to respond to a challenge, threat, or other external stimulus.

A beneficial side of the stress reaction is a short-term clarity of thinking, like just before a competition.

Stress Fractures

The failure to manage stress, too much stress too often, can result in regular overdosing on adrenaline and cortisol, which, according to a recent Inc story “increases your risk of anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep issues, memory and concentration impairment, and other conditions.”

Stress can be elastic, and the brain function returns to its normal state when the stress has passed. In cases of prolonged stress, however, the elasticity disappears and brain function can permanently change. That change can have a negative impact on cognitive function, alertness, decision making, and memory.

Prolonged stress can take a physical toll as well, impacting the heart and circulation, the immune system, the digestive system, and the regulation of hormones.

And current research is beginning to show some concrete links between stress, and anxiety and depression. For example, stress can have an impact on the immune system, and a compromised or challenged immune system can often lead to depression.

Other side effects of chronic stress can include:
  • Loss of emotional and physical energy
  • Decreased attention
  • Poor motivation
  • Apathy and despair
  • Cynicism and resentfulness
  • Lack of commitment to the job, mission, or task
  • Poor team engagement and teamwork
  • A Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Detachment and self-isolation
  • Decreased job and career satisfaction
Stress And Fatigue

Have you ever wondered why when you’re stressed you also feel tired, fatigued, lacking in energy, maybe even napping a lot? Neuroscientists are working on at least three very plausible theories, and all three are probably right:

First, a major part of the stress reaction is the creation of instant energy or fuel (glucose). If the body is in a constant state of stress it becomes fatigued from having to continuously make so much energy. Engines need to be allowed to just idle for a while.

There’s also the theory that sleeping or resting is a way for the mind to rest too so that it can recover and function. If Distress is leading to mental exhaustion, one of the best ways for the brain to rest is for the body to sleep.

And finally, sleeping is also a really great way for the mind to say screw that for a while, to forget how stressed it is, to take a break, to just stop worrying.

And the brain has a very good sense of what’s going to happen if stress isn’t managed, if the brain can take a breather when it needs to.


The ultimate result of long-term unchecked or unmanaged stress is burnout. Physical and emotional exhaustion that can have so many harmful side effects.

But once again, there’s good news too. I didn’t realize the horrible dead end of burnout until it was too late and I had nothing left in the tank.

If you recognize and manage your stress early, you’ll never reach that point. And if you do reach that point, it’s still not too late, you can still fix yourself, and pretty quickly.

It’s possible to do a complete mind reset. To calm the chaos, tame the stress, get that grip, and rewire your brain, your thinking, the way that you process all the stressors around you, so that it can recover from this self-inflicted emotional exhaustion.