Reading the Stress Barometer. Are You at Code Orange?

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Code Yellow. Code Orange. Our country has been stressed by the barometer of threat. But what about you?

Every day things push us closer to the edge. How much can you take before you snap — before you go Code Red? To be successful and live to tell about it, you have to know, monitor and control your barometer of stress.

Stress occurs when “demands exceed the resources an individual perceives he or she is able to mobilize.”

During these times, your body, acting off the fight-or-flight response, releases adrenaline to help you run faster or fight harder. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, sending more oxygen to your muscles. You focus your attention on the threat to the exclusion of anything else.

Constant stress makes it hard to listen well, focus on the important things and remember details. It starts to affect every part of your life, creating a slow leak of energy and innovation.

In many circumstances people reach Code Red, emotional explosions or implosions that end up doing much more damage than good. Code Red can be a major derailer of careers and relationships — all because individuals don’t catch themselves at the Code Orange level.

It’s different for every person, but generally, here’s how the stress barometer breaks out:

  • Code Green (low stress). Sleeping well; living a healthy and balanced lifestyle; a clear focus. Life is good.
  • Code Blue (general stress). Low energy, disorganized, losing focus, scattered.
  • Code Yellow (elevated and significant stress). Pessimism, tired, loss of focus, sweating the small stuff, anxiety.
  • Code Orange (high risk). Irritable, tunnel vision, tightness in the body, no clarity on priorities, negativity, exhausted, constant anxiety.
  • Code Red (severe risk). Burnout, blowups, lethargy, depression, inability to make a decision, lashing out, irrational.

How do you recognize and manage this stress cycle before it’s too late?

1. Identify your Code Green and determine the indicators of your other levels.

2. Identify the things that trigger stress in your life and plan accordingly; for example, if certain clients are a trigger, be sure you schedule time to de-stress on days you know you’ll meet with them.

3. Develop a technique to check your stress levels throughout the day. One possibility: Every time you refill your water bottle, ask yourself how you currently compare to Code Green and what you can do to move closer to it.

4. Use a mind, body or spirit tool to counter the stress. No tool is “one size fits all”, so choose one below, and experiment to see how it affects your stress levels:

  • Mind: Develop a portfolio of activities and interests. Clear your mind with new ideas, hobbies and music. Find someone at work to confide in. Keep a journal and write about what’s stressing you.
  • Body: Work the adrenaline out of your system. Take a walk around the block or go to the gym. Drink eight glasses of water a day. Sit and focus on your breathing. Lower your intake of processed foods and sugar.
  • Spirit: Calm your mind with meditation or quiet time. Practice faith. Be in nature. Keep a picture or object on your desk that brings you “back to center.” Hang out with friends. Accept life as it is (not as you want it to be). Do a “random act of kindness” for a stranger.

Stress cannot be avoided. However, it is possible to be aware of your stress levels, choose differently and make changes in your life that lead you back to Code Green. Because let’s face it — life’s too short for Code Orange.

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1 Comment

  1. Anne Loehr
    May 8, 2009

    You’re right…a balanced life reduces stress. Clear communication also reduces stress, so things don’t build up and eventually cause an explosion, which can increase stress. That’s why understanding how to communicate to the four generations can make a huge difference in someone’s personal and professional life.


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