© Performance Management Consultants
What are the three most important things to know about stress?
First, that it comes in many forms.
Second, that if you don’t manage the stress in your life, the stress in your life will manage you.
Third, that the only thing worse than having too much stress in your life may be having too little.
Stress, PMC Instructor Samantha B. will tell you, “is our emotional and physiological response to any perceived threat, whether real or imagined.” And the healthiest state is not a complete absence of stress. It’s a balance. Not so much stress that we’re overwhelmed, but enough that we’re constantly challenged.
Nearly 80 years ago, Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye described the response to stressors as “general adaptation syndrome.” He identified three stages:
• Alarm, when your body produces adrenaline and the “fight or flight” decision is made.
• Resistance, when your body tries to adapt to persistent stressors, depleting its resources.
• Exhaustion, when your body’s resources are depleted and it loses its ability to function normally. This can damage your endocrine and immune systems.
This description holds true today. Stress is not simply a passing emotional state that alters behavior for a little while. The effects of stress on body chemistry can change lives, and have lasting impact. The stress students experience in school can distract them from learning and create test anxiety. Stressed commuters and travelers experience road rage and air rage. Colleagues, customers and family members share their stress with us. Over-stressed police, firefighters and soldiers often experience post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD. And workers in any field may experience burnout.
Did you know that for a non-smoker who is not obese and who eats a reasonably healthy diet, stress may be the most important controllable risk factor for heart disease?
So how do we avoid all that stress? How do we prepare ourselves for the stress we cannot avoid? And how do we deal with the effects of stress?
Let’s begin with this advice from Hans Selye: “It’s not what happens to you that matters, but how you take it.”
Samantha says that a number of recent studies have underlined the importance of the belief in our ability to achieve happiness, and to cope with stress. Those studies show that we can choose to be happy, and we can manage the unhealthy effects of stress.
In The Right Kind of Stress Can Bond Your Team Together Sean Achor explains that the military, athletic teams, and organizations like Habitat for Humanity all “reframe everyday stress to create a culture not only of meaning, but of high connection. It comes down to perceiving stress as a challenge, and understanding that we’re all in it together.” In the workplace, this can have positive benefits as individuals learn how to spot the effects of stress, as well as identify the potential impact on their working environment.
In Samantha’s PMC workshop on managing stress and building resiliency, participants share experiences as they help each other learn how to spot the physical, mental and emotional signs that go along with their stress, and how they may be mismanaging it. Then they learn to understand the root cause, and how to deal with stress, using techniques such as:
• visualization and meditation
• changing limiting beliefs
• progressive muscle relaxation
As leaders, as collaborators and as individuals, we can learn to view challenges as opportunities for collective and personal achievement. By changing the way we view and respond to stress, we can break free from the perceived control that is has over us, and learn to manage it in a healthy and productive manner.
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