The more people I work with, the more I see folks in denial about the stressful situations they frequently find themselves in. So often, people put blinkers on, put their head down and just keep going. Of course, there is a time and place for doing this, but not as often as people believe.

The challenge is, as human beings we are often in denial about the severity of problems and carry on regardless. We may sit there convincing ourselves that things will blow over, or we don’t want to make a fuss, or trying to focus on the things that are going right in the belief that the negative stuff will simply go away.

This can be foolhardy and dangerous for your physical and mental health as well as your career.

Why? Because when we feel stressed, our bodies release the hormone, cortisol. If high levels of circulating cortisol are prolonged, this reduces activity in the frontal cortex of the brain and compromises our attention span, so that we can’t concentrate properly; it adversely affects our short-term memory, perhaps meaning that we forget what someone has just told us; and it lowers our inhibitory mechanisms and therefore we are more likely to make rash or bad decisions. Plus, activity in the hippocampus in the brain is affected so that your declarative memory (factual information and previous experiences) is impaired, which is not helpful in a business situation. If you were looking at someone displaying these characteristics, I wager you would think they are incompetent or a fool. But what if this is you?
And if this isn’t bad enough, prolonged stress halts the production of new brain cells, which negatively affects behaviour and even alters neural plasticity. Even the structure of the brain and connections can be impacted. Of course, one should never underestimate constant or repeated stressors, nagging problems that don’t seem to go away, because they can lead on to depression and anxiety disorders.

How do you know when it’s time to shake off your ostrich feathers and lift your head out of the sand? When you are being inefficient to the point that people begin to lose respect for you or they stop asking you to do things.

Here are three things that can help:

Acknowledge – please stop pretending that everything is OK. It’s not a weakness to acknowledge that there are issues to address. Even if you only acknowledge problems to yourself, it is better than ignoring and allowing things to fester.

Acceptance – accept that the situation is not perfect, this will help you relax. Denial is highly stressful and unnecessary, especially in business situations. Accept there is a problem and you will start to be able to see more clearly.

Action – as cortisol levels recede after following 1. and 2., your frontal lobe activity will increase and you will put your brain in a better state to come up with answers.

Please don’t wait for a time when people think you are less than who you really are. You are not a fool, otherwise you wouldn’t be in the position you hold now. So don’t let stress and those high levels of cortisol secretions impair your effectiveness. Stay in control, use the 3As, stay healthy and enjoy your successes.