Stress in the workplace is simply inevitable.
We’ve all heard lots about the detrimental effects of stress on our health and our relationships. Lifestyle changes such as exercise, a healthy diet and getting enough sleep can help us manage our stress. We all know this.
But what if we could become more familiar with what our own personal stress response looks like?
Wouldn’t this enable us to learn how to minimize the stress we expose ourselves to in the first place? Or how to respond to stressful situations differently?
What would it look like if we could learn ways to manage stress that are more internally focused instead of just focusing on external lifestyle changes?
Identifying your own personal stress response
We each respond to different situations in different ways. A situation that may cause you a lot of stress may cause none whatsoever to me. And vice versa.
Let me give you an example.
Awhile back, one of my best friends was telling me about a gala that she was preparing. As she described all of the crafty flowers she was creating for the event, I felt stressed just listening to her.
Crafty is not a word that anyone would use to describe me. I hate just colouring with the kids, never mind preparing paper flowers for an important gala. This type of work would be very tedious to me, and not the least bit enjoyable. My friend lives for this kind of stuff.
As I chuckled with my friend about my disdain for all things crafty, she replied that getting on a stage to speak in front of a large group of people would never be on her list of preferred activities. As a professional speaker, this is a situation in which I thrive.
Yes, if I’ve slept well, am exercising regularly, am eating well and have had lots of time for self-care, I can deal with having to make crafty flowers. But the bottom line is that this type of activity is not enjoyable to me and is a subtle form of stress.
Stress is not just related to major life events or situations that are challenging. Stress is experienced any time we do something that doesn’t meet our needs.
Let me share another example, from work this time.
Over time, I started noticing that when my I have lots of meetings on my schedule, I end up feeling stressed. The meetings in and of themselves don’t even have to be stressful. But as someone who is more of an introvert (in the sense that I recharge my batteries by being alone), too many meetings leave me with not enough alone time to replenish.
This awareness has enabled me to make different decisions. Becoming more familiar with your own personal stress response will also help you be able to manage stress more effectively.
What is your typical response when faced with a stressful situation?
1. Avoid, avoid, avoid (aka underfunctioning).
If you fall into this category, you might find yourself avoiding situations that cause you stress. Instead of addressing the situation and finding a way to be able to participate in a way that meets your needs, you avoid it altogether. If avoidance is your typical style, you likely find yourself procrastinating when under stress or you may have a habit of shutting down altogether.
2. Productivity is the name of the game (aka overfunctioning).
If overfunctioning is more your style, then when you’re faced with a stressful situation, you may have a tendency to plow through tasks at lightening speed. You use stress to fuel your productivity. Doing this to an extent is ok. But when you are addicted to stress and adrenaline, it becomes a dangerous game, at least in the long-term.
Our society tends to applaud those who overfunction and to look down upon those who have a tendency to underfunction.
But you should think twice about this.
Both responses are simply different sides of the same coin when it comes to stress responses.
These responses to stress are both fueled by our reptilian, or our primitive brain. In both of these two states, we are responding unconsciously and based on instinct, instead of truly making conscious decisions. Decisions made in this state are often fear-based.
So what other options do we have?
3. Be present.
The other option is to be present with our stress. We fall into patterns of under- and overfunctioning as a way to move away from the uncomfortable feelings that we experience during stressful situations. Learning to tolerate the feelings underlying our stress will help keep us away from these unconscious patterns that simply aren’t healthy for us.
If your tendency is to avoid or to shut down in stressful situations, start to notice when you are starting to get the urge to run away. If your pattern is to make more to do lists and set higher goals, also note when this habit pops up. Stop yourself and try to identify what is causing you stress in the first place and what feelings are underlying that stress.
Once we can identify and tolerate the feelings underlying our stress, stress will no longer drive our actions in a way that doesn’t serve us. Instead, stress will become a signal that our needs are not being met.
If you’re looking for support to help you and your team spend more time being able to be present with your stress, so as to ultimately become more resilient to stress at work, get in touch.
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