How Stress Makes You Stupid

Feb 2022

As a CEO, executive or manager, operating from feelings of stress and pressure sabotages your ability to read a situation accurately and make sound decisions.  While it may seem that stress goes with the territory of your busy world, it works against you.  What is the relationship between stress and personal performance?

Stress is defined as a feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.   It is a state of mind that inhibits our capacity to effectively ‘think straight’.    Stupid is defined as having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense.   Humans have a built-in capacity for mental clarity and the ability for sound decisions in every moment, so what happens when we don’t?

Here are five ways that stress makes you ‘stupid’

  1. Stress is accompanied by a low mood in the forms of frustration, anger, pressure and fear.  A low mood prevents you from seeing things clearly, having a deeper understanding and blocks out creative solutions and innovative ideas.  You temporarily lack simple reasoning and the ability to respond effectively in the moment.
  2. Stress contributes to misreading a situation or individual.  You respond from old habits, old assumptions or preconceived notions so that is it impossible to be responsive in the moment with fresh perspectives and ideas.  This can lead to making decisions that you wished you hadn’t.
  3. Stress leads to over-reaction to people, events and situations.   You somehow mentally bypass the current situation and jump back into the past to a situation where you were triggered and overreacted.  You might jump to conclusions, make erroneous assumptions, even see something that is not there.
  4. Stress contributes to feelings of being stuck, going around in circles and unable to see new possibilities and solutions.   You circle around in old patterns of thoughts, going nowhere, even to feeling hopeless.   Even if new opportunities present themselves, you dismiss them as you are just too caught up in your thinking.
  5. Stress takes you out of the present, the only place life happens.   You can’t be in your head thinking and in your life at the same time.   Stress gets in the way of appreciating beauty, nature, people, music, food, art, anything that takes presence and attention in the moment to enjoy.   You can be going through life feeling flat and unfulfilled oblivious to the wonder and miracle of life around you.

Just because everyone else seems to be stressed out, you don’t have to be.  You can have the distinct advantage of working with effortless ease at a peak level of performance – calm, clear-minded and connected.  You get to solve unsolvable problems, generate innovative ideas and turn a challenge into an opportunity. 

You can ride on the crest of the wave instead of in the trough.

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