January 21, 2019
The truth about stress at work and how to use it to your advantage
According to numerous studies, 65% of workers feel very stressed at work and 25% of employees view their jobs as the major stressor in their lives. However, as well as being able to boost your immune system, stress actually has many benefits when utilized in the right way.
You’ve probably noticed yourself performing better under pressure or when faced with a deadline. But, more often than not, stress can feel overwhelming and out of your control; workplace stress, in particular, can be felt emotionally, mentally and physically.
Perhaps you’ve experienced one of the following symptoms of stress in the workplace:
- A dramatic change in weight
- Longer absences due to sick days
- Feeling undervalued or degraded
- Persistent insomnia
- Becoming short-tempered
- Poor work-life balance (working long, unsociable hours) and decreased wellbeing
However, you may be surprised to find you recognize some of these symptoms of ‘post-traumatic growth’ – lasting benefits people experience as a result of extremely stressful experiences:
- Increased appreciation of life
- Improved relationships with others
- Increased prospect of new possibilities
- Personal strength
- Spiritual change
But, the question is, when faced with stress, how do we turn the former list of symptoms into the latter, more positive experiences?
Coping with stress at work – the challenge vs. threat approach
The most effective way to cope with stress is to do exactly what it says – cope with it – don’t fight it. Research says it’s the fight against stress that makes you unwell, not the stress itself. And it all comes down to your mindset.
Take this question, for instance: if you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
Whether you visualized yourself lying on a beach on a faraway island or exploring a culturally rich city in Europe, you probably didn’t picture yourself sitting at a desk in an office. But, even if you are overdue a break, the lack of stress associated with a holiday would actually become stressful in the end. As humans, we thrive on stimulation and challenge and it’s often our ‘stressful’ experiences that provide us with growth and purpose.
Science says that once you switch your mindset, your body responds: your physiological reactions to stress become healthier, and you find yourself experiencing more of the positives and less of the negatives associated with stress.
Stress comes more from our thinking than from our external environment. Therefore, the solution to dealing with stress may just be to experience stress differently. When you are faced with a stress-inducing situation, try to adopt a ‘challenge’ response rather than the unhealthier alternative, a ‘threat’ response.
For instance, say your manager has assigned you a complicated task with a very sudden, short-notice deadline. This is the moment to start gathering your resources – don’t dwell too much on the bigger picture when you’re already overwhelmed. Tell yourself that you have the ability to handle the situation and your body is more likely to respond to the situation as a challenge rather than a threat. As a result, the stress itself becomes one of your greatest assets.
Harness the energy behind your stress
Other stress management techniques, such as meditation and yoga, carry the message that stress should be eliminated. And whilst these approaches can be very beneficial, it’s important to notice your own mindset regarding stress. Seeing stress as something negative will only fuel further stress when you start to realize you can’t fight it. Ultimately, there are only two things in life that we have control over: our thoughts and our actions. Any external factors that cause our stress are beyond our control; once we come to understand this, life becomes easier to handle and it can suddenly seem clearer to stop trying to eliminate the stress.
Instead, use it – your stress can give you an edge. It can be helpful to identify the meaning behind the stress you’re experiencing so you can understand how to use it. Look at it this way: you wouldn’t feel stressed unless you cared about the situation. Use the extra energy and adrenaline your body is giving you to achieve a positive outcome for the challenge you are facing, and thank stress for helping you to get there.
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