Starting the ‘career break’ and the optimal level of stress

PERFORMANCE-CURVE1-2

I am now into my third week of my ‘career break’. This has marked the official point of feeling ‘this is not a holiday anymore’ and realising that I am no longer employed. I now spend my days like the stereotypical ‘traveller’, albeit a fitness obsessed one; training, eating, reading and visiting any coffee shop I can.

My leave from full time employment was met with a mix of scepticism and jealousy. Some people believed I was making a crazy mistake, whereas others were just jealous of all the ‘free time’ I now had. I reassured both that 1) this is the absolute right decision for a number of reasons, and 2) this isn’t easy. Sure, I now do have a lot of free time and in essence can do anything, but having just gone from an incredibly stressful job to nothing has, in all honesty, left me with an unusual sense of loss. Its best described as an extended feeling of that which you get when you go on holiday; those first few days where you feel a bit guilty for not being at work, find yourself still thinking about work related issues, and can’t quite fully relax. Thats exactly how I have felt for the past few weeks. Having gone from full time stress to now nothing, I find I’m unable to fully let go and relax. Isn’t that absurd!? No stress in my life anymore, yet I find any reason for feeling stressed. Prime example is today, when my internet decided to cut out. After a typical long call to my service provider, I was told I wouldn’t have an engineer get to me for 48 hours. Cue almighty stress. Yet, really, is this something to be stressed about?! I’ve taken it as an excuse to travel to my favourite cafe and get some food and a coffee and sit down with my laptop to write.

This has got me thinking; have we hard-wired ourselves to be primed for stress? Are we so used to stress that in it’s absence we find minute reasons to get riled up?

You have likely heard of the stress curve; where we have an optimal performance level where we have a certain stress. Where there is no stress, we under perform, and where there is too much stress, we burn out. I was certainly on that extreme end, close to burn out. And now? Now I’m on the other end; I find myself so unproductive in my days that now my brain is looking for any excuse to get stressed. Is this healthy? No, not at all. But is this necessary? Perhaps.

We all respond to stress in different ways, yet having gone from a full on career with continued high levels of stress, the complete absence of it has left me feeling low, lazy and lacking. Getting worked up over minor issues is not the answer though, so the best solution will be to find other sources of more healthy productive levels of stress. For example; if I apply myself to my training, ensuring I stick to a programme and perform my best, this will ensure an adequate level of stress. Similarly, setting up a routine and signing up for online courses and making myself stick to self imposed ‘deadlines’ or ‘targets’ should help to provide that structure and stress to keep me motivated and productive.

The moral of the story? We all require some level of stress to perform at our peak. This can, in some instances, need to be self imposed to help provide the motivation and momentum to propel ourselves forwards. And the other moral opt the story? Don’t stress over lack of internet; get yourself to your favourite cafe (in my place Dishoom) and get on with what it is you enjoy.

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