• Erin Engelke

Five Tips to Regaining Your Motivation in Times of Stress

Updated: Nov 9


Stress over a long period of time can take a toll on a person’s body and mind, keeping you from staying motivated to live your life to the fullest. Add in a global pandemic, and the ability to stay strong can feel near impossible.


Do you remember where you were when your community began to shut down because of COVID-19? I sure do. And it felt surreal, didn’t it? It still does. Since that moment 8 months ago, I’ve felt the stress of running a nonprofit that exclusively exists to serve people face to face. I’ve experienced overwhelming concern about my children’s education and let’s be honest, worry that I won’t do a go enough job teaching them from home. And I’ve worried so much about the health and wellbeing of my staff at Calm Waters, ensuring they have jobs throughout this crisis.


Stress is a funny thing…depending on the circumstances, it can be healthy.

Necessary, even. Like the stress you feel because of an impending deadline due to a client proposal presentation, needing to hit a sales or fundraising goal, or in my case right now, moving an entire business in the middle of a global pandemic.

There are other times, when stress, especially when it is prolonged, can be absolutely devastating and crushing to your physical and emotional health, causing us to lose motivation or even the desire to do the things we once loved to do. Turns out, a global pandemic can do that to a person!


So what are we struggling with most through all this - stress or burnout? Stress is an imbalance between your current coping abilities and the expectations or demands placed on you, including demands that you place on yourself — both real and perceived. Stress saps our energy and contributes to fatigue, negative thinking, and distressing emotions, including anxiety, fear, frustration, anger, self-pity, and depression.


Burnout occurs when stress continues for a long time. When you’re suffering from burnout, you feel tired and drained. Your immune system is affected, and you are more likely to get sick. Stress is less extensive, but it most definitely causes your motivation to decrease.


Eckhart Tolle once said, “Stress is caused by being “here” but wanting to be “there.”

Isn’t that the truth? Whether it’s losing the wretched “COVID-19 pounds” you gained the past several months or wanting to advance your career and seek a promotion, you want to be at that end goal as soon as possible. And what does it take to get there? Hard work no doubt, but ultimately it takes the motivation and desire to put in that hard work. We typically experience four types of stressors in the workplace and in life.


1. Time Stress.

This occurs when you worry about time or a lack of time. Impending deadlines cause time stress. When you are concerned about an upcoming presentation or board meeting, you’re battling time stress. This is the most common type of stress in life and at the office. You usually experience this when you think there’s not enough time for you to finish a task. Panic sets in and you struggle to finish as many things as you can. You rush until you get burned out, do all of them half-way or, worse, not get any work done at all.


2. Anticipatory Stress.

This stress is associated with the feeling of anticipating the future a little too much. You anticipate so much that uncertainties of what could happen in the future overwhelm you.


3. Situational stress.

This type of stress occurs when you feel you aren’t in control. It appears suddenly and you have no clue what to do. This could be the result of a sudden layoff and you are forced to take on another person’s job responsibilities…on top of your own. Or when a natural disaster hits your community and you are helpless to control the situation.

4. Encounter stress.

Encounter stress occurs when relationships with others cause you anxiety. When you have challenges with a toxic co-worker, you may experience encounter stress. This stress also involves the feeling of being overwhelmed by meeting new or too many people. Let’s be honest, encounter stress has been heightened because of the pandemic. We now have stress about wearing our masks, fear others won’t wear their masks, concern about losing relationships because we can’t be a part of group gatherings anymore or even see our work colleagues due to working remotely.


So how do we address these forms of stress?


First of all, there is hope!


The good news is, you can refuel your motivation from anywhere, without ever leaving your home office! Our brains are remarkable and very powerful. Stress impairs the neural synapses in our brain, but when we confront stress and take control over it, we can literally rewire and rejuvenate our brain. But it does require practice and consistency.


As Zig Ziglar once said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

It takes work! Over my career as a nonprofit leader as well as a parent of three children and community volunteer, I’ve found the following five tips to be the most helpful in getting me back on track when I begin to experience my motivation taking a serious nosedive.


1. Name what causes you stress and what brings you joy.

Psychologically, there are some big emotions happening right now in our lives: Loss of control, for one. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, nearly everyone has had a disruption of their schedules. In addition, there is a feeling of being out of control, because nobody has any idea exactly how long our lives will be like this.


It’s an incredibly unsettling feeling, to not be able to plan or have any idea what the future holds. Stress has a funny way of making us feel like everything in our life is a mess, even though it may just be one or two things. So how do we gain control?


Step one is to name what it is really that is stressing you out.

Is it that your kids are in the next room virtually learning while you are trying to work from home? Is it that your boss has not communicated your expectations for your new position at work?


An acknowledgement of what we’re really anxious about is an important step in resolving it or regaining control.


Our stressors can be very granular as well. Like anxiety about our weight or feeling overwhelmed with relationships with our partner. Speak that stressor out loud. “I am feeling stressed about…” and fill in the blank.


Next, determine what motivates you…even in times of stress.

In my work as a work/life balance expert, I regularly coach working moms and dads to focus their time and energy on what brings them joy…what fulfills them…because when we don’t, our lives automatically feel off balance. So how do we do this? Identify what motivates you, what fills you with joy for each aspect of your life – personally and professionally – and prioritize them. Those become the standard by which you determine how you spend your time.


If you’re not passionate about it, you will not be motivated to accomplish it.


“The way to stay inspired and motivated is by doing what you like, doing what you love.” —Raphael Saadiq


2. Set boundaries and say no more often.

Your stress levels increase when you bite off more than you can chew. It’s important to avoid the tendency to say yes to everything. Give yourself the permission to do so! When you’re asked to do something, pause before responding. It’s okay to say no. Don’t feel guilty about it. When you learn to confidently say no, you’ll have more time and motivation for the work that demands your attention.


I’ve made the mistake of saying yes to serving on nonprofit boards or community committees…all because I was honored to be asked…but then discovered I truly didn’t have a passion for that cause or mission, resulting in me dreading the meetings or the tasks I was expected to accomplish. That dread and anxiety about the commitment bled over into other aspects of my life, draining me or keeping me from being motivated for what I did have a passion for.


Don’t say yes to a commitment if you don’t love it! Focus instead on having a fulfilled life…doing only the things in your life that bring you joy…from your earlier discovery. When we commit to tasks or commitments that drain us, we don’t have the energy or motivation to be present and joy-filled at work or at home.


Setting boundaries is critical in all aspects of life but even more so now as work and home responsibilities are colliding in epic proportions.


3. Find a community to talk it out.

There’s something so cathartic about talking through our feelings, our struggles, our stressors. Many of us haven’t been encouraged to do so…or perhaps weren’t raised in homes that gave us permission to share how we’re feeling. When we get too inside our own heads, we create storylines for our lives that are not accurate. More often than not, we allow the voices in our head to dictate how we feel and generally those voices aren’t telling us the truth! We feel very alone, helpless and not motivated to do the things we love.


Whether you seek out a support group, a therapist or simply connect often with your closest friends, a strong social support network can be critical to help you through the stress of tough times, whether you've had a bad day at work or a year filled with loss or chronic illness.

4. Shift your mindset.

A positive attitude…a positive mindset…improves motivation. Motivation is contagious. Surround yourself with others who are positive and motivated…it’ll rub off on you. But beyond your circle of influence, you need to start with yourself. Flip the switch when it comes to your view on your life! Speak your truths. You are capable. You are worthy. It is possible. It will be okay. Find the mantra that works for you.


Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

The only way to get out of your stress funk is to keep going.

Deep breathing is one powerful way to activate your body’s relaxation response and shift your mindset to a more positive one. It also sends a message to your brain that everything is going to be okay.

It’s also very important to ground yourself in the moment. Remember earlier when we talked about how stress is the feeling of wanting to be “there”? Sometimes, we just need to recognize and acknowledge where we are right now. And that there is a lot that is good about the present. The sun will come up tomorrow!


5. Do something just for you.

Take the time for self care! Do one thing for yourself every day, whether it’s a workout, talking to a friend for a few minutes or indulging in a favorite food. For me, I am energized to run nearly every morning. Do I always really want to? Nope. But I know if I do, my day will start out much more positively. Those endorphins will give me the motivation to nail a keynote presentation or make tough decisions. What is it for you?

In order to be fully present in your role as a business professional, spouse, friend or parent, you have to be in a good place mentally and making time for self-care is imperative to achieving that mental stability. It will also ensure you have the willpower to withstand stressful situations. Find small tasks to do each day that give you a sense of accomplishment, especially the kinds of tasks you enjoy.


The more fulfilled you feel, the more motivation you’ll discover.


I hope you are motivated to make changes in your life beginning today. Start small. Every step you make toward a goal, a task or a dream gets you closer.


If no one else has told you lately, you ARE doing a great job…far better than you even realize. You’ve got this!

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