Covid-19 Series: Why Stress Matters
“Stress results when something that happens or something that you observe exceeds your ability to effectively cope with the event.”
This definition of stress comes from Dr Bruce Rabin, a specialist in stress and stress management techniques. It makes a lot of sense when applied to the world we currently live in, and no wonder we are seeing, and perhaps experiencing, increased stress levels due to the Covid-19 impact.
But in this article will ask the question… is all stress bad? And how can you work with stress to find ways of coping?
As a nation, we’ve generally been taught the lesson that stress = a bad thing, and therefore that we should avoid and rid our lives of stress as much as possible. If you ask me that sounds like a stressful prospect in itself!
Here’s the good news… stress mindset research from Stanford University highlights a fresh perspective. This research showed that viewing stress as a helpful part of life, rather than as harmful, is associated with better health, emotional well-being and productivity at work – even during periods of high stress.
So, embracing stress is potentially much more important than reducing it.
Kelly McGonigal, Lecturer at Stanford, shares the three most protective beliefs that we can all hold about stress:
1) To view your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating – for example, to view stress as energy you can use.
2) To view yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life 3) To view stress as something that everyone deals with, and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is.
You can discover much more about this from Kelly’s TED talk ‘How to make stress your friend’
Stress and performance
So, is stress good or bad for us?
The answer is it can be both! There is even a word for each. Eustress = healthy stress
Distress = unhealthy stress
Some stress is good for us, it gets our minds and bodies pumping, and can give us motivation to perform at our peak. The following image shows the impact of increasing levels of stress on our performance both in work and in life.
Too little stress and we can find ourselves in the ‘drone zone’ - coasting, missing a sense of purpose and that brings with it a risk factor for poor mental health.
Too much stress, including acute or chronic trauma, and we tip into the ‘survival zone’ and even full ‘burnout’.
When I share this model with people it often starts to make sense that if we spend too much time in the ‘performance zone’ we can easily start to tip into survival. So, what we need, each and every one of us, is to regularly visit the ‘renewal zone’ in order to keep our stress levels in check.
There are many ways we can help ourselves renew. In the previous post ‘everyday actions for thriving’ you’ll find links to many ideas of ways to renew. Definitely check out the ‘everyday actions for mental and emotional wellbeing’.
Working with stress
As a species we are designed to deal with, handle and learn from stress. It is built into the basic biology of our human stress response.
One of the most powerful exercises you can do to work with your stress, create a sense of control, and to calm a fully engaged nervous system is to STOP:
Stop – press pause on what you’re doing. Take a few deep breaths – breathing in through your nose, feel your ribs expand, and exhale slowly through your nose or mouth.
Observe what’s going on for you – be mindful of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and environment around you. Proceed with purpose – do something you enjoy or something to actively manage the stressor – this might include asking for help.
As you leave this article, ask yourself these two questions…
What’s my mindset towards stress?
What activities enable me to renew?
This article was originally written for The Drinks Trust as part of their COVID-19 updates. If you haven't heard of this wonderful charity then do pay their website a visit and see how you can support, or be supported, as a member of the drinks and hospitality industry.