Personal Note

It’s time for Spring cleaning – mental and physical.  Clearing desks and files feels good and motivates you to get back to work, especially after being closed up indoors for the winter.  Best of all, clearing surfaces allows your creativity to spring forward – that same creativity that seems to disappear sometimes under stress.

Stress makes you stupid!

Stress can make even intelligent people screw up, look slightly crazy, and even undermine their health and well-being.

It’s true: even highly-educated, highly-intelligent people can do incredibly stupid things under stress.  Take the woman, who upon finding that her house was on fire, grabbed what she believed to be two important objects before she rushed out- of- doors.  They were an old issue of Time magazine and one slipper.

I myself have loads of empirical evidence to support this statement.  And so have you.  Have you ever rushed to get to the post office before it closed, only to discover the important package was still on your desk?

Here are some of the ways “stress stupidity” is expressed:

Losing things:   How many times have you had to search for everyday objects such as keys, shoes, or your car in a parking lot?

What was happening just before you “lost” them? Your attention was probably fixed on the goal you were pursuing, rather than what you were doing when you put those items down.

Solution:   Stop leaping ahead into the mental future and learn to pay attention to what you are doing when you are making transitions:  leaving the house or office, parking, or going to the market. Pause and make a mental note of where you are going and what you will need when you get there or what you need to leave behind. When arriving at home or work, don’t immediately rush to solve a problem – children’s quarrels, a  broken down appliance, etc.- before paying attention to where you are putting things (unless, of course, the house is on fire.).

Forgetting things you know perfectly well:  While working with a marketing expert who was being paid by the hour, I had great difficulty getting the spacing right on a computer document we were designing together.  Finally, I struck myself on the side of the head and said, “Stupid me.  Hold down “control” while pressing the “enter” key.”  This is an action I perform many times every day but had forgotten because I was hurried.

Solution: Time to take a break and take a breath.  Do a stretching exercise. You will actually save time in the long run if you do so.

Brushing aside important information as a kind of “overload” that you can’t handle right now.  For example, you may resolutely decide not to learn or implement a process that would make a job easier because you are too stressed and hurried to take the time to learn it.  So you continue in your old, less effective but familiar way.

Solution: Take a break, take a breath, and find someone capable of helping you learn the new task, or just do it for you.  Ask for help from people you know, being careful to select people who do not raise your stress level by displaying scorn for your “stupidity”. With the communication possibilities on the internet today, you can find someone easily who understands or can do what you cannot.

Brushing aside suggestions from other people, because you are too busy and harried to listen. You may even hear helpful suggestions as criticism, and feel more stressed.

Solutions:  Take a deep breath, and just say “thank you.”  That momentary pause may help you evaluate quickly whether the suggestion will save you time and stress.

Stress can make you temporarily stupid, until you come to your senses and regain your sense of humor and sanity.

So, stay in present time, alert to people, objects and action around you. Breathe deeply often, particularly when starting or finishing a task, or coming or going.

And above all, keep your sense of humor.  Smile slightly as you remind yourself, “Stress makes you stupid!”