If you’ve ever run on a backwoods trail, you know how treacherous it can be. If you’re not careful, you can trip on a tree root or hit a gopher hole and wipe out. Where I live, you can even end up going over the edge of a cliff.

When your environment is so chaotic that you have to focus all your attention on stability and survival, everything else gets pretty much blanked out. Creative, innovative or critical thinking are the furthest things from your mind. I’m not just talking about trail running, but for running anything: your career, your business or your life.

The human mind will always prioritize what it perceives to be survival threats ahead of everything else. And that’s a good thing. If it didn’t, none of us would be here. Note the keyword “perceives.” Perception is very different for different people.

Some of us feel threatened, fearful or anxious at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t take much for our minds to become overloaded by emotional stimuli and essentially shut down. Others become so accustomed to the adrenaline rush of the fight or flight response that they can still think clearly and make solid decisions under stress.

Each of our environments are also different. Some of us have more stressful jobs or lead more chaotic lives. In my experience, much of that is self-inflicted.

Regardless, how you react to emotional stress affects you in profound ways. It affects your work, your relationships and your health. Something to consider when you feel anxious, blocked or out of sorts. Is the cause external or internal? What’s your reaction when it happens? You might want to spend a little quality time with yourself to understand what’s going on.

Image credit Eduardo Metinger via Flickr

  • Ellie Cassio

    Or you might want to spend alone time in nature, if that is available. I’ve always found that refreshing and cleansing of all tensions.

    • Steve Tobak

      Indeed, as long as the trails aren’t too treacherous, as observed on my last trail run.

  • Mario Clementi

    I heard some researchers in a podcasts saying that people are more stressed today than in ancient times, when life was really tough. For example losing a harvest would lead to starvation. So, why were those people not as sressed as we are today? Apparently this was due to the fact that they were much more physically active.

    • Steve Tobak

      … or maybe the researchers are actually clueless about how stressed people were a thousand years before anyone kept records of that sort of thing. Just saying …

      • Dépont Gépont

        Also, there was a lot less to screw up in harvesting than there is in a 9-to-5 job nowadays, and so there was a lot less to worry about overall. Sure, life was much tougher physically, but the outcome of their work was much more directly attached to their actions, which might have led to having a better sense of control over their lives back in the day. Either you worked physically hard and you had food grown, or you were lazy and stayed hungry. It was clear what they could and what they could not control, and they were engaging in physical activities that got them rid of stress, more or less.

        Now you complete a task with basically no physical difficulties whatsoever, and you have no idea if it’s gonna be fine or you’ll get fired and replaced by someone seemingly more competent. No direct positive feedback on the lower levels, but a constant worry about the future. I’m a bit simplistic now, but you get the point.

        • Mario Clementi

          Good point!

        • Steve Tobak

          With all due respect, I see no benefit whatsoever in analyzing how things may or may not have been a thousand years ago compared to today. Ya’ll might want to read the serenity prayer now and again.

      • Mario Clementi

        True. But maybe a thousand years ago stress was not self-inflicted.