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by Dr. Beverly Potter


In stress management, people tend to focus on reducing dangerously high stimulation levels.
But there are times when  prevails.
Object of stress management
is to keep your body's activation
or stimulation level
within the optimal range.
How to stay in optimal range
When your activation level rises above the optimal range, the objective is to lower stimulation level back into the optimal range. When your activation level is low, act to stimulate activation back up into the optimal range.
Underactivation or understimulation
such as whenlethargy or boredom
inhibits performance.

Develop an Internal Monitor

Key to managing stress is an developing effective internal monitor.
Moderate activation (called the "optimal range")
is correlated with high levels of performance.
Observe Yourself
If you want to fine-tune yourself you must become aware of yourself. Observation of your internal responses tell you what you are experiencing now, how tense you are, and what you need.
As you develop the sensitivity of your internal monitor and learn to manage stress responses, your personal power will increase. You will feel more in command of yourself and more able to handle difficult situations. As a result you'll probably take on more challenges and act with greater confidence when handling them.
Other people will sense your confidence
and respond to you with greater respect.
Stressful Environments
Our environment stimulates us in different ways.   According to researcher  Albert Mehrabian the amount of uncertainty and information in the environment is the "load" of the environment.  - Mehrabian's fascinating research into the impact of environmental factors is described in his book,  Public Places, Private Spaces.

By manipulating environmental load
you can increase or decrease your tension level
and increase your productivity.
Low Load
Environments that are certain, known, or regular, where things are familiar and there is little new information, are "low load."
High Load
Environments that are new, unusual, irregular, unknown, or contain a lot of new information are "high load."


The more uncertain the environment, the more it contains the possibility of danger.

Uncertainty is a stressor.

Environments with a lot of information to be processed are also stressing. Because we don't know what's out there, all the senses must operate. We mobilize into alertness, the optimal level to process information.
Celia must prepare a report containing a lot of figures every Friday afternoon when her activation is way down and she just can't quite find the energy to work on it. Consequently, she ends up making a lot of errors and doing an inefficient job. Celia needs to stimulate or increase her activation, bringing it up into the optimal range. To accomplish this she could engineer her environment.
Engineering Environment Load

Increase or decrease the load of your environment to keep yourself in the optimal range. When you that you are in the high critical range, for example, lower your activation to bring yourself back into the optimal range by reducing the load of your environment. Similarly, when you are bored increase your activation or stimulation to move into the optimal range by increasing the load of your environment. Most of us understand this principle intuitively.

We often use potentially harmful methods
of increasing or decreasing activation levels
such as taking coffee, alcohol, or drugs.

By making simple changes in your environment you can regulate your stress
for optimal performance  -  and health.
Music pulls our heart strings. We respond both physically and emotionally. You might feel nostalgia when listening to Pomp and Circumstance, like dancing when listening to a disco tune, or maudlin listening to a love song.
Mood can be altered faster
with music than with drugs.
Simple experiment
Look through your collection of cassettes or CDs and select an instrumental with a simple, repetitive melody and a slow, even beat. Then select a second piece that has a fast, changing beat with a strong percussion emphasis, the more chaotic the better. Relax yourself until you feel calm. Play the low-load music and notice your internal reactions. How does it feel? What is your activation level? After a minute stop the music and relax again. Now play the high-load music and notice how you respond. Most likely you noticed a sizable increase in activation in less than a minute when listening to the music with a fast beat.
Celia could increase her efficiency filling out the report forms if she had a radio in her office and switched it to an upbeat station. The high-load music would bring her stimulation up to the optimal range and the increased alertness would help her perform at her peak.

On the other hand, work requiring intense concentration can raise stimulation dangerously high. Here Celia would do better to turn the dial to a station that plays calming music because low-load music lowers stimulation level.

Color and Design
Lower stimulation
    Soft, muted colors and regular designs are low load and have a calming effect.

Increase stimulation

    Bright colors such as reds, yellow, oranges, and bold designs in clashing colors
    are high load and stimulating.


Jack put an abstract paintings on one a wall in his office and a painting of a Hawaiian sunset on the other. Whenever he needed to calm down he projected himself into the sunset; when he needed a boost he looked instead at the abstract.
Color of Light
With the flip of a light switch you can change the load of any environment - and your mood. Compare the affects of a soft-white light to that of a harsh-white one. This principle is used routinely in the theater. If you've been backstage you probably noticed banks of colored lights that can be turned on to help create the mood needed for the play.
You can transform a dreary,
depressingly gray day into a bright one
simply by wearing glasses with yellow lenses.
People are the highest load. A group of people, especially strangers, are extremely high load.
Even our closest friends can be unpredictable.

  Increase stimulation
Go to a party and stand in a crowd of people for entertainment.

Lower stimulation

If you want to get away, to "get your head together," go for a walk in the
woods or on the beach to avoid people.


Celia could have used this principle to help her complete the boring reports. Rather than sitting in her familiar, sterile office, she could have packed up her papers and gone to the cafeteria to write the report. The comings and goings of people, their talking and movements, provide a more stimulating environment and perked her up into the optimal zone.
Lower stimulation
Baths are an age-old method of modulating body tempo. Stretching out in a tepid bath will relax you every time. If you are tense when you arrive home after work, a warm leisurely bath or dip in a hot tub will probably do the trick.
Increase stimulation
When you need to be perked up it is best to take a cold shower. For instance, if you have trouble getting started in the morning you might take a cold shower first
Lower stimulation
Eat bland and familiar foods like mashed potatoes
Milk and valerian tea
are natual relaxants
Increase stimulation
Eat spicy or unusual food.
Cayenne pepper and ginseng
are natural stimulants
Level of hunger
Lower stimulation
After a large meal, on the other hand, you might get drowsy because your energy has been detoured to digestion.


If you must perform before a group, for example and you are nervous, you might eat large breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and hash browns to lower your stimulation level back into the optimal zone to perform at your peak
Increase stimulation
A mild degree of hunger is stimulating.


If you must do something that is a little boring, you can increase your stimulation level by grabbing a slice of toast, a piece of fruit, and a vitamin pack so that you have a nearly empty stomach. The mild hunger helps to push you up into the optimal range.
Increase stimulation
When you are bored or depressed, vigorous exercise is a very good way of
picking yourself up.
We tend to think the more exercise the better,
but this is not necessarily so.
Lower stimulation
When you are already highly stressed, a mild light exercise such as a walk
around the block will help release tension so you can relax.
When you have been highly activated all day, vigorous exercise would not be advised because you could exhaust yourself. Some people get into an exercise regime, sticking to it rigidly without checking their internal monitor to see what they actually need at the moment.
Take a reading on yourself and
then adjust the nature of your daily exercise.
Increase stimulation
Adventuresome or sexual fantasies perk your up
Lower stimulation
Fantasies about eating a wonderful ten-course meal and
your "pleasant fantasy" are relaxing.

Copyright © 1980, 1993, 1998: Beverly A. Potter, from "Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work", Ronin.  All Rights Reserved. This article man be down loaded for person use.  Any other use requires written permission from docpotter.

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