For some, being manic is simply a part of being creative. Non-stop ideas, improvements, and all-nighters are conducive to success in the field. But there is a line to be drawn – one that when crossed, can quickly lead to burnout and a reverse in productivity altogether.
One of my best conversations about this was with Mel Robbins in 2021. Mel is a keynote speaker, author and life coach who frequently speaks on the topics of stress management and personal growth. In our discussion, she highlighted five key things that everyone can do to manage cortisol overload.
Here are the takeaways:
Recognizing the Toll and Taking Action
Stress. Worry. Anxiety. Fatigue. Indifference. They’re all interrelated feelings with the power to shape our thoughts – and as creators, quality of work. It can be easy to overlook the true implications of day to day life on wellbeing, especially during times when goals seem more important than anything else. It’s even easier to let introspection fall by the wayside in the midst of unprecedented global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and recent economic shake-up.
But ignoring the wear life has on wellbeing doesn’t do anyone any good. In fact, it’s one of the easiest ways to get burnt out. Science is clear about the human nervous system’s ability to trump the brain in stimulus responses. With the life-or-death circumstances of our ancestors in mind, fight or flight is human nature’s default. And it’s a state that way too many people find themselves in today. Stress literally has the power to punch holes in our energy reserves through recurring physiological and psychological responses.
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Mel has worked with countless individuals who struggle to stay productive amidst the chaos of everyday life. While every case is different, the first and most impactful thing anyone can do to remediate their damage from stress is recognize it and proactively seek a solution. Control is a simple yet powerful tool when it comes to regaining the upper hand on stress.
Switching the Right Nervous System On
Here’s a quick science lesson for everyone – the human body has more than one nervous system. While they’re all connected to the brain and more or less responsible for the same function, they’re wired differently. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are two such divisions that control body responses.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response and it’s triggered when you feel threatened, stressed, or scared. It’s a primal instinct that can be beneficial in certain situations but detrimental in others; like when you’re trying to relax and recuperate.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the branch that kicks in when it senses safety or relaxation. It’s responsible for a calmer, more relaxed state of mind which allows us to think more clearly and objectively.
The key to tackling stress is learning how to switch the right nervous system on when necessary. With practice, it becomes easier to override the sympathetic response and replace it with a calmer one from the parasympathetic system.
‘Okay, sure. That sounds great. But how do I actually do it?’
Mel Robbins has several suggestions. The first is ‘high-fiving your heart’; applying pressure to the center of the body where the vagus nerve, a key part of the parasympathetic nervous system, is located, while saying three very important sentences that we all need to hear a little more often.
I’m okay. I’m safe. I’m loved.
That, and as simple of a task as remembering to breathe, can make a huge difference.
They say that the morning is the most important part of your day – and that’s true. Not only is it when the do-or-die task of getting out of bed gets done, but also when you set the tone for the many hours of life to come. So why not take full advantage of it?
Many of us are accustomed to a wake up routine that in some way involves self-criticism and negativity. Maybe it’s looking in the mirror and instantly picking out a flaw or two. Or perhaps it’s assessing our lives in comparison to others by scrolling through social media. But these are all leading us in the wrong direction.
Rather than beginning your day with thoughts of self-doubt and comparison, a morning routine should be focused on setting yourself up for success and growth. Mel suggests looking at things objectively; here is a person who is doing their absolute best and deserves to be supported.
Say It and Believe It
While some mantras can be cheesy, others are affirmatively backed by science – repeating constructive ones regularly can help foster positive connections between neurons in the brain.
For instance, you could repeat a few positive words like “I am strong” or “I am capable” while you brush your teeth. Doing this consistently will create new pathways in the brain that can help to make these affirmations part of your self-narrative.
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Goal-setting and grinding are both pivotal parts of finding success in the creative field. You can’t expect great things to just fall right into your lap – they’re only achieved through sustained hard work. But there is a line to be drawn in the sand. No matter how talented you are at whatever you do, the fact of the matter is that you are and will always be human.
It’s important to take some time out of your day or week and just be. Spend quality time with family, friends, or even by yourself; engage in a hobby that allows you to express yourself; and most importantly make sure you’re taking care of your physical and mental health. Self-care is not just some trendy buzzword, it’s a lifestyle that allows you to stay at the top of your game and keep stress from spiraling out of control.
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Speaking with Mel Robbins about stress management and personal growth is enlightening to say the least. According to her, it’s all about understanding how inner dialogue affects the way you behave, and then using that knowledge to reshape yourself into the person you want to become through daily affirmations and self-love. Whether you’re in a creative field or not, the importance of her insights cannot be understated.