The Red Zone: unsafe areas in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, a region of France decimated during WWI, the area on the field between the 20 yard line and the end zone in American football (source: wikipedia). The term Red Zone is a fairly well understood term that designates either a problem area or a heightened sense of alertness, as in the case of football. I’m extending that meaning to the emotional place many pastors and leaders find themselves in, sometimes without there even knowing it. Consider these subtle clues that may point to your being in the stress Red Zone. Mentally check the ones true of you.
10 indicators you are in the stress Red Zone
- You quickly walk by someone at church or at the office to avoid a conversation simply because you don’t have the energy to engage.
- Fun in ministry and life seems to have disappeared.
- When you come home your spouse says, “You look terrible.”
- When you come home you could go to bed, right then.
- You can’t shake the free floating anxiety that seems to cling to you.
- Small things that once didn’t bother you now set you off.
- You often ruminate over and rehearse negative issues in your ministry and/or life.
- You easily default to worse case scenario thinking.
- You feel anger coursing deep within.
- You’re not sleeping very well.
How many did you mentally check? If you checked any of these, you may be in the stress Red Zone.
Often leaders lead in such stress-filled environments that their bodies and brains are awash in the stress hormone, cortisol. When under stress, whether good or bad, our adrenal glands (located atop our kidneys) release this important hormone. Cortisol is not all bad. We need it in times of stress. However, it becomes harmful when we are perpetually under stress and our body gets overexposed to it and other stress related hormones.
Here’s what can happen to your body if it’s perpetually awash in cortisol.
- dampened immunity: you’ll get sick more often
- digestive problems
- heart disease
- weight gain
- impaired brain functioning, especially memory
- sleep impairment
So what can you do if you realize you are in the stress Red Zone? Consider these ideas.
- Make sure you regularly exercise as exercise can help reduce excessive cortisol in your body.
- Practice mindfulness as part of your spiritual formation process. My latest book includes an entire chapter on mindfulness.
- Get 30 minutes more sleep each night.
- Take your day off…really take it off. Don’t even look at email for 24 hours straight on your day off.
- Talk to a friend, your spouse, or a counselor about your stress. Others can often give us a more objective sense of reality which can reduce our stress.
What has helped you manage your stress and avoid being awash in cortisol?