Imagine trying to drive a car while looking through binoculars. You’d be able to read that bumper sticker in the distance, but you might not finish it before running into something. Several books that I’ve read recently all point to this effect of stress – it causes a narrowing of our perception. We want this during short-term emergencies; it helps us eliminate unnecessary distractions. But when creativity is needed to solve the stress, it’s like driving with binoculars — the stress prevents you from seeing the solutions. Plus over the long haul chronic stress hurts.
We live in an information rich world. We must see the patterns and create fresh ideas to succeed. This need competes with stress induced focus. Both can be beneficial in different situations. Recognizing this can help us recognize that when we’re stressed we are wearing blinders. We can’t see all the solutions and so things may seem much harder than they really are.
I’ve spent a little time thinking about stress and its effects myself this year. We tend to think of stress responses as bad things, and indeed they can be. Binoculars too, I guess, in the wrong place. Stress responses can also be valuable tools. Like a lot of tools, you either have to learn how and when to put them away properly, or stay away from them altogether.