The Secret To Keeping Stress Levels Positive
It might sound like a contradiction in terms to use the words ‘stress’ and ‘positive’ in the same sentence. Surely there’s nothing good about feeling stressed? Shouldn’t we be trying to avoid getting stressed?
Well actually no! Stress is a natural reaction that occurs for one of two reasons. Either we feel that something we really care about, such as our ability to provide for our family or an important relationship, is under threat. Or we feel like the demands on our time or ability are exceeding our ability to cope.
In both cases, the initial stress reaction is a good thing, alerting us to what matters most to us. Motivating us to stretch ourselves out of our comfort-zone, or make changes to our lives to increase our ability to cope once more.
The secret to keeping stress levels down is learning to view your stress levels as a useful ‘early warning system’ and knowing how best to respond – before you start to feel overwhelmed.
Why stress is your friend
Even though thirst and tiredness can be uncomfortable sensations, they’re actually on our side because they alert us to when we need to take better care of ourselves, by getting a drink or an early night.
Similarly, stress can be our friend, if we let it. It’s just our body’s way of alerting us to the fact that we’re feeling the effects of pressure of some kind.
A little bit of stress can actually be a good thing, motivating us to work productively to hit a deadline, focusing our minds before a meeting and making us want to acquire knew knowledge before an exam. But just as thirst left unchecked can lead to dehydration, stress left unchecked can lead to physical and mental health problems.
Know when to take action
The most important thing you can do to keep stress levels positive is to recognise when your body is telling you that the pressure you’re facing is beginning to have a detrimental affect on you.
Although the point at which we become ‘too stressed’ varies from individual to individual, with some ‘stress junkies’ thriving on levels of pressure that others would gladly avoid, typical common symptoms include:
- feeling tearful or aggressive
- struggling to fall asleep or waking early
- loss of appetite or eating too much
- becoming more forgetful and error prone
- not wanting to be around others or make eye contact
- nail biting, eye twitching, leg jerking or other physical cues
- feeling like everything is against us and no one is on our side
How to keep stress levels positive
The secret to keeping stress levels positive is to act on any negative feelings associated with stress, before they become overwhelming. In much the same way that we try to get a drink as soon as we feel thirsty, instead of waiting until we become dehydrated to do something about it.
When seeking to reduce stress levels you have two options:
A: Reduce the level of pressure you’re under – by asking for help, handing back some responsibility, giving yourself more time or getting emotional support
B: Increase your ability to cope with the pressure – by increasing your emotional resilience and ability to deal with pressure before it gets too much for you
In reality it’s important to do a mixture of both, which is why we not only offer Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that can offer emotional and practical support to employees who are feeling overwhelmed, but also resilience training to help employees identify things they can do to stay healthy under pressure.
Increasing resilience to stress
In total, we’ve identified six ‘batteries’ that employees need to keep charged to increase their resilience to stress and ability to stay healthy under pressure:
- Social – regular opportunities for quality social interaction with others
- Emotional – doing things that give you a sense of joy or achievement
- Physical – nurturing your body by eating well and getting enough sleep
- Mental – stretching yourself and seeing ‘failure’ as an opportunity to learn
- Mindful – setting aside time and worries to mindfully enjoy the moment
- Meaning – living by the personal values that matter most to you
For example, when my son started secondary school I also decided to start a much more demanding job. Although it was a stressful time, with a lot of change happening, I felt more overwhelmed than I should have so looked at which resilience batteries were running low.
I realised my social energy, which had been topped up by chatting to other mothers when collecting my son from his primary school every day, had completely gone, leaving that battery almost empty.
Although the other batteries were running high, I made a concerted effort to reconnect with some of the women I used to chat to on a daily basis and set up a professional network to allow me to regularly interact with like-minded people on a regular basis again.
It took a little while to feel that social connection come back in again but, once it did, I felt my resilience come back to where it had been and felt much more emotionally prepared to meet the new demands being placed upon me.
The secret to keeping stress levels positive is to monitor and respond to any negative feelings before they become overwhelming.
This can be done by reducing the pressures faced or taking stock of your resilience batteries to make sure they’re fully charged enough to help you cope.
Case Study: Oracle boosts resilience
Find out how Oracle boosted employee wellbeing through resilience after educating employees how to cope better with the challenges facing them. The solution involved addressing the number of home workers experiencing ‘low mood’. Read the full story here
“There’s been a huge appetite for the resilience workshops. Employees say they feel empowered and excited to make profound changes to their life. They finally understand the link between their wellbeing and their performance.”
Michelle Bradshaw, Compensation and Benefits Director, Oracle UK
Want to make your workforce more resilient?
If you’d like to increase the ability of your people to stay positive under pressure, we offer resilience training as one-off workshops or a series of modules as part of your ongoing training and development programmes.
Please email [email protected] to set up a free consultation to discuss the opportunities for reducing stress related absence across your organisation.