There is no doubt that there has been an increase in the numbers of people struggling withstress and anxiety and there is more need than ever to help people understand how tomanage it.
What is Stress?
Stress is a word that is frequently used to describe many different feelings and behaviours –it has become a regular and acceptable addition to everyday language. However, it is oftenmisunderstood.
Stress is a term that originates from engineering and refers to the response of a system to anapplied force. In terms of human psychology, the concept has been developed throughresearch which has led to the identification of four broad types of situations that peopleperceive to be stressful:
1. Harm and / or loss
The reason we need to understand stress is because many psychological and physical healthproblems begin with stress, and are then exacerbated by a person’s ability to manage it or thecoping strategy they are using. Unfortunately, this can lead to quite destructive or harmingbehaviours and more serious mental or physical illness.
Stress isn’t all bad. In fact, stress is an essential part of surviving and helps us staymotivated and to thrive - it responds to opportunity for example. Eustress is ‘good stress’ thatmotivates and facilitates learning and change. Too much stress for too long is what cancause more serious health problems – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Stress and our Brains
Most people have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response which is a very basic way ofexplaining our biological stress response.
There are many different factors that influence our stress response including our environment,age, sex, and context (the perceived stressor). This is why two people can have a very differentperception of the same event and why some people find certain things stressful, and others don’t.
When we experience a stressor, this produces a highly co-ordinated and complexorchestrated neuro-symphony of stress. This response is co-ordinated by the fast-actingsympathetic nervous system which sends neural signals to release adrenalin and the sloweracting Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis which receives hormonal messages fromour adrenal glands to secrete cortisol.
We feel ‘stressed’ when real or imagined pressures exceed our perceived ability to cope, butnot all stress is bad. When the physiological stress response is repeatedly activated, it creates a state ofheightened vigilance. On the one hand, this is very useful for your brain as it is on high alertto threat but on the other hand, it results in leaving you feel emotionally exhausted, anxious,and probably struggling to sleep which in turn causes feelings of irritability, less ability toemotionally regulate and lack of concentration. As you will no doubt be aware, this canbecome a vicious cycle.
As individuals, it is important to recognise when we are feeling stressed and the symptoms orresponses that appear as a result of experiencing stress. Become mindful of your own triggersand subsequent behaviours. For example, do you turn to cigarettes or alcohol or bite yournails? Or do you take some time to get outside, do some breathing exercises or exercise?
So, what can you do to manage feelings of stress and anxiety?
First and foremost, we need to take responsibility for ourselves. I’m sure you are familiar withthe saying ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. As we know, in order to be there for others,we need to have our own resilience reserves topped up, otherwise we simply have nothingto give. I appreciate this is not always easy and there will be days where it feels harder thanothers. As with anything, practice and consistency are key.
Take personal responsibility by developing your emotional awareness. Understand whatyour individual triggers and stress responses are as well as what you find most useful tomanage stress and build your resilience.
• Breathe - Physiologic breathing is neurobiologically wired to make us feel calmer as itreduces carbon dioxide from our blood and activates the parasympathetic nervoussystem (the part that keeps us feeling calmer and balanced). The more you practice this,the stronger and more resilient your nervous system will become meaning you will learnhow to stay calmer and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. To do this, take one longinhale through the nose followed by a second short sharp inhale through the nose. Thenexhale through the mouth for as long as you can.
• Mind your language – Become aware of the way you speak to yourself, certain wordsand thought patterns. For example, if you hear yourself repeatedly saying things like ‘I’m so stressed’, ‘I’m really anxious’ or ‘I’m so overwhelmed’, take a moment to stop andchange the words you are using. Remember, we are what we think so we want to avoidnegative identity statements. Instead, add the word feeling so ‘I am feeling stressed’, Iam feeling anxious’ and ‘I am feeling overwhelmed’. Our brains understand that feelingsare temporary and can change.
• Natural Daylight – Ideally, spend 5 – 10 minutes outside within 30 minutes of wakingup. When we are exposed to natural light, it increases serotonin which is theneurotransmitter associated with mood, dopamine and cortisol which regulates ourenergy levels. We also know that exposing ourselves to natural light both in the morningand afternoon helps regulate our circadian rhythms which aids in sleep.
• One of the biggest causes of increased stress is feeling out of control – stick to a routineto help create a sense of calm amongst the chaos. Accomplish small tasks to keep youmotivated and moving forward.
• Be compassionate with yourself – no one is invincible, and no one is immune to stress. It’s ok to struggle and it’s ok to ask for help.
• Look after yourself, and then model this to others.
• Actively seek to embed a common language and culture of wellbeing. This can truly helpstaff with their wellbeing and to be more resilient. Happier people make happier teamswhich leads to a more supportive and productive environment.
Stress is needed to survive and thrive, and we can all learn how to manage it. Byimplementing practical wellbeing strategies, it is possible to reduce stress and anxiety andimprove mental health and emotional wellbeing. Remember that everything is connected andaffects one another – neurologically, mentally, emotionally, and physically.
As well as the tools above which will are useful for everyone, think about what brings you joyin life. What do you love doing that makes you feel good, reduces those feelings of stressand anxiety, and boosts your resilience? That might be running, sports, yoga, meditation,cooking, reading etc etc.
Find what you love and do more of that! Give yourself permission to prioritise your wellbeing,and lead by example.
You don’t have to it alone, our in-depth CPD certified training programmes equip you andteams with exactly what you need to promote psychological wellbeing and resilience in your team.
From onsite teams to remote teams, Workplace Wellbeing is for everyone. We are seeing ashift, accelerated post-pandemic, with how workplaces are evolving and how companypreferences are changing. This is the time to understand and invest in the unique strengths ofyour team and build your people.
If you’re ready to make a positive change, contact me today, and let’s have a chat.
About our Speaker
Lisa Jones is the Founder and Director of HeadStrong Training. She founded HeadStrong Training® as a vehicle to teach othersthe importance of resilience and emotional wellbeing and feelsstrongly that people should be equipped with essential skills toconfidently manage the stresses in life .Lisa works in both the corporate and education sector(HeadStrong Training in Education) teaching others theimportance of brain health, resilience, stress management andemotional wellbeing.