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Tennessean Column- Sunday, May 31st

Posted on: June 01

Author: Tom Black
Tennessean Column- Sunday, May 31st

Harness the Benefits of Short-Term Stress

Recently I was talking to a group of salespeople and the topic was stress. They were stressed by quotas. They were stressed by the competition. They were stressed by their commissions. They were stressed by their boss. They were stressed by their chosen profession.

So I ask, “Why do you stay in sales?” The answers were “the money,” “the freedom” and “the opportunity for making an impact in their businesses.” I agree these are the reasons we chose sales as a profession and, yes, there can be stressful components of our job.

The question I ask, then, “Is stress good or bad?” TalentSmart asked 1 million people about their emotions in stressful situations and they found 90 percent of top performers remained calm in stressful situations. Wow. We can all learn to do this if we don’t already.

Stress can be good. Most of the research shows performance peaks in times of moderate or temporary stress. Stress is a necessary emotion. We all have that emotion and, as long as it isn’t long term, it’s harmless. Yes, harmless if it’s short term. In fact, many experts argue that short-term stress brings out the best in us.

Elizabeth Kirby from the University of California at Berkeley found that stress causes us to grow new brain cells. Kirby says, “I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keep the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert.”

Other studies indicate hormones are released during stress that boosts performance on tasks that require brain power (like IQ tests). Further evidence suggests stress helps us process information quicker. C.L. Clark and others did a study that shows post-stress growth of mental toughness and deeper meaning. In one final study I will mention, E. S. Epel says that stress can help physical recovery and immunity.

Stress can be positive, useful and beneficial. My first advice would be to focus on the positive benefits of the short-term stress we all face in sales.

However, long-term stress can be very unhealthy. We know stress causes heart disease, depression, obesity and can even reduce our abilities to think clearly. What are the coping strategies that 90 percent of top performers surveyed use to benefit from stress?

The most powerful tool begins with recognizing that stress can be beneficial and that it, like all emotions, can be controlled. When you feel stress, take a deep breath, think about the event causing the stress and remind yourself that in 100 percent of past stressful situations you survived. You are undefeated. Say to yourself, “This, too, shall pass.”

Second, if the stress continues, remind yourself of “how good you have it.” Really, most of us in a stressful moment focus on the event and not on the bigger picture. I’ve always been able to find someone who is in a worse situation than me or had a worse situation and survived. This coping method will give you perspective. Everyone has stress butterflies. The trick is to teach them to fly in formation. My mom used to say, “It could be worse,” and this thought will help you reduce your stress. Be thankful for what you have.

Third, use self-talk. Ninety percent of the things we stress about do not happen. The more time you worry about the future, the more stress you will create. Tell yourself to focus on the here and now and not ask yourself, “What if?” Top performers remain calm in stressful situations by not asking themselves about what could be. “What could be?” is for futurists, not salespeople.

Finally, disengage from time to time. Go someplace or do something that takes your mind off the stressful event. When you work 24 hours a day there is no chance to get away from the stress. Yes, I believe in working 70-80 hours a week, but everyone needs to get away to reduce the stressful times in your life.

Stress is inevitable, it’s inescapable and it’s universal. However, it doesn’t have to be harmful. 

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