We all experience stress. Short-term stress is not a bad thing. Think about an exciting project you were assigned to complete, but it required you to operate in a new way. This scenario brings stress, but it’s short-term, motivating, and produces energy. This is what I like to call “Yellow Flags.”
Long-term stress, on the other hand, depletes us, diminishes our effectiveness, and can have harmful physical, mental, and or emotional impacts. Eventually, long-term stress can even lead to burnout. Of course, we all know this, but we can miss the warning signs. Those early warning signs were the yellow flags.
We all have yellow flags that indicate we are heading into long-term stress. For me, it’s when my calendar gets booked for the week without any days with wiggle room in the schedule.
It also shows up when I need more time for exercising in the morning or when I grab unhealthy food quickly and scarf it down because I need more time.
The yellow flag can show up in my body of tenseness in my upper back or the burning feeling in my chest that doesn’t relent. Or it might show up as me saying “yes” to a project without taking 60 seconds to think it through.
What are your yellow flags?
Those yellow flags can indicate that we are headed down a path of long-term stress. They warn us to stop and reflect on what we are doing and what needs to shift. Yet, often, we ignore those flags.
Instead, we logic the yellow flags away. For example, we say:
- “This is only for a short period.”
- “I’ll make up the exercise next week; it’s not a big deal.”
- “What’s one bad meal? You eat healthy every day.”
- “It’s been too long since you had a massage. Of course, your back is tight.”
- “Opportunities are not a bad thing.”
If I only look at the flag itself rather than what it indicates to me, I’ll miss its meaning and keep going. The larger purpose might be: Take a closer look. This has been going on for three weeks now; next week looks just as bad. Keeping your foot on the gas at this level without an end in sight isn’t a recipe for success.
Notice the flag
Noticing the yellow flag and recognizing the meaning behind it allows us to ask ourselves questions:
- What do you need to shift to give yourself some energy?
- What is in your control?
- What might come off your plate in the short term to weather this busy time?
Recognizing the flag allows us to pause, to stop doubling down on “doing” or “pushing through” or “just keep doing the same actions hoping for different results.”
Noticing the flag allows us the space for choice. Even though it feels like we have no control over our situations, there are always choice points. We can choose how we approach stress. We can select the conversations we need to have and decide how we ask for help.
Pay attention to the yellow flags. When we get to the red flags, it usually takes much more time to recover.
Identify your yellow flags.
Help yourself have a better outcome.