How many times have you heard the word stress mentioned this week? How many times have you said it to someone about yourself in the last month?
Pre-covid, research found that more people in the Western world are experiencing more stress today than ever before. We also know that the pandemic has had a huge impact on mental health.
Stress is particularly prevalent for those middle aged and impacted by changes in technology, family and relationship dynamics, and economic hardship. Further research by Mind found that work is the most stressful factor in people’s lives with one in three people saying their work life was either very or quite stressful, more so than debt or financial problems (30%) or health (17%).
But is all stress bad?
Stress gets a bad wrap. Common signs and symptoms of stress come from our ‘reaction to being placed under pressure and can activate certain feelings when we face demands that we find difficult to cope with’ (Mind).
But actually, not all stress is negative – normal levels can even be good for us. Individual thresholds for stress vary but some pressures can in fact improve our performance and help us thrive.
What is good stress?
Good stress manifests when we feel excited. Our heart beat increases and hormones release – and importantly, there’s no threat or fear.
We might feel pressure from running a race, riding a roller coaster, going for a promotion, going on a date, or moving house. This can improve:
- Your cognitive function – connections between neurons are strengthened, helping memory, attention and productivity
- Your immune system – low doses of stress hormones helps protect from infections and moderate stress can give a quick boost to protect against illnesses
- Your resilience – as you deal with different situations and overcome problems which build your resilience in future.
But good stress has an evil twin… Chronic stress is not so good. This is when we’re in a state of crisis and this can actually have the opposite effect, lowering immunity and increasing inflammation.
- We might notice things like:
- Feeling fatigued or exhausted
- Feeling anxious, worried or panicking
- Feeling frustrated, snapping or reacting more with anger
Spotting the triggers
Anxiety and stress activates our ‘fight, flight – or freeze’ mechanism which is useful for real dangers – like walking out in front of cars – but can easily be triggered by other scenarios which our brains want to protect us from.
Understanding what our stressors are puts us back on control. We are able to observe and notice when things are triggering a good stress response or a bad one. We can even strengthen our stress response by observing our body’s reactions in certain situations.
Perceived threats can instigate a variety of threat-based responses in our body, but when we perceive it as a challenge instead, the fear can turn into excitement and anticipation: the good stress.
Exercise your mindset switch
So how do we do this? There are a few ways to handle stressful situations – in the moment – to help us flick the switch, moving away from the bad stress zone, and into a mindset where we can respond positively. Things like…
- Focusing on the resources you have available. This creates a problem solving trigger that helps meet the challenge.
- Seeing the potential benefits of a situation helps reduce the fight, flight or freeze reaction – look for the opportunities.
- Reminding yourself of your strengths is useful to draw you back into what you can control and away from focussing on the emotional reaction of the problem.
Good stress practice – the long game
What if you could go even further and really build on your coping mechanism to help reduce your bad stress reaction – and harness your good stress response? Well, you can. There are proven ways to handle stressful situations that will inevitably come up now and again.
We go into all the tools and techniques in our Stress Awareness workshop covering things like how to track your stressors, establishing boundaries and recharging your batteries. We also look at work-related stress for managers and provide guidance to help reduce stress levels among employees, referencing the HSE framework
Get in touch to find out more about our Stress Awareness workshops and webinars.