Stress. It’s a little word that comes with a lot of weight. As articles report stress in the work place to be on the rise, burnout to be more prevalent than ever and stress related illness to be up there as one of the number one reason people visit their doctor, it has never been more important to understand what stress is and how to we can help stem the epidemic.
The mayo clinic defines work stress and burnout as ‘a special type of job stress – a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence or the value of your work.’
But why does stress occur and what really is happening when the human system is under a state of stress? It can be suggested that a certain level of stress is in fact normal and evolutionary speaking a useful response to danger. This theory reverts back to the natural flight or fight response. I.e. that when we sense danger the body gets prepared to either run or fight. This translate physically as an increased heart rate, tension in the muscles to enable making a quick escape and a shutting down of non-essential bodily functions, for example digestion. Preparing the body for escaping the danger at present and the physical act of fighting or running.
However, and here in strikes the issue, in our modern day world the ‘dangers’ or stress inducers are far less likely to be a sabretooth tiger and more likely to be a looming deadline or financial troubles. The body however still initiates the same stress responses, only to find that running away or fighting the tiger (literally) are not viable solutions. What happens now is that this stress state is maintained for much longer periods of time. Whereas our cave dwelling ancestors would have moved in and out of states of stress fairly fluidly, the stress state for some is becoming the new norm.
This is exactly why stress management is so important. Because if our stress is not managed it will pertain.
So how do we resolve our stress state, how do we begin to manage our stress to ensure it remains at natural levels and does not become a chronic experience? A simple process to think about here is awareness > action. And this all starts with triggers.
Triggers are specific situations and experiences that initiate the stress response in our system. They will differ wildly from one individual to the next so one of the first steps in effective stress management is to identify and become familiar with you own triggers. A simple way of doing this is to really start noticing what happens just before your body shows you it is feeling stressed. Right before the heart rate increase, hands become clammy, mind speeds up or muscles tense. A simple trigger diary can be really useful to map your triggers and notice recurring ones.
The next step is to take action. Stress management is such a hot topic at the moment that new ideas are popping up here, there and everywhere. The latest rather alarming trend to hit the US are Anger Rooms. A ‘breakroom’ in Atlanta is giving people the opportunity to relieve their stress by, you guess it, breaking things! There is surely a big question to be asked here – if we are reaching the point where we need to inflict aggression outwardly to calm our inward state there really is a case for a greater understanding of stress management skills.
At Hasiko and E:scape we advocate techniques that fall into the calmer camp. We also understand that these actions need to be quick and highly effective, especially when we are managing stress in a working environment. A long hot bath or taking a week away to relax most likely will not be available options whilst in the middle of an everyday work stress hit. Start your morning with a stress-preventing routine that focusses on your wellbeing first rather than a rushed and stressful morning which will only build on your stress as your boss, your family and yourself pile on demands. The problems that are thrown at you throughout the day will continue to happen, it's how you deal with them that makes the difference to your stress. Learning the tools to separate yourself from your thoughts are invaluable to help you cope with stress which is what our executive coach, Karen Kwong, will be talking about in our Stress Management and Wellness retreat in Koh Samui this June.
Chris Myers (author of Enlighted Entrepreneurship) says change the scenery. He goes on to highlight this does not need to be in a huge way. Switching up where you are sat, taking your laptop to your favourite coffee shop for an hour or if that isn’t possible just moving your chair! Change your view, change your perspective.
In terms of tackling the stress built up in the physical body, it’s all about breath and movement. Again quick fixes do work. Try taking 10 deep breaths, increasing the exhale on each breath. Try some gentle ‘at your chair’ stretches. Lauren from Daisy Yoga, New York’s leading cooperate yoga company, recommends 15 minutes of no sweat stretches that can really make a difference.
What all of this comes back to is the need for stress maintenance instead of reactivity. Take those anger rooms, this would be reactive stress management in its truest form. Waiting for the stress to build to such a degree that only a punch bag and some broken objects will do the trick. Instead stress management should be a lifestyle choice as necessary as good nutrition and getting enough sleep.
It’s time to get serious about stress management and not in an angry way. Understanding, acceptance, awareness and action.