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STRESS- Good or Bad for you? It is important how you think of it.

It seems that every magazine we pick up these days has an article on how to ‘manage stress’ with recommendations for ensuring a better work life balance, practising yoga or mindfulness are just some of the solutions offered to  improve our ability in handling stress….but are we approaching this with the wrong attitudes, destined to fail? Often labels such as ‘busy Mum’, ‘high powered executive’, ‘successful business woman’, ‘Junior Hospital Doctor’ imply we are all tearing around at a frantic pace, over scheduled and time poor. How effective are we at recognising stress, preventing it and managing it better? We know from research that stress can cause illness, but stress has many beneficial effects too, identified in recent research in Stanford University. Stress results in increased brain functioning and increased resilience.

We know a stress free life is not all it is cracked up to be and is not desirable if we are to keep improving, by learning throughout our life, keep experiencing pleasure and having meaning to our lives, according to leading Research Psychologist, Dr Kerry McGonigal.

She identified those who set out to avoid stress as more likely to experience depression, fatigue and exhaustion. Avoiding stressful occasions or situations prevents us from becoming stronger from the experience gained. We also reinforce what Dr McGonigal refers to as ‘the inner narrative of our own inadequacy.’ Avoidance of rather than engagement in the challenging or stressful event only further reinforces our inability to cope. There is no avoiding having to face down the challenges.

 

How to cope with stress?

Better to face it and acknowledge it is present, it would appear. The research identified those who dealt with stress best were those who were able to identify what matters most in their lives, what was termed in the research ‘Values Affirmation’.

Having a sense of meaning to life, whether in our relationships, religious faith, ability to have a ‘glass half full’ predisposition, having an active and appropriate sense of humour, or working on improving a personal skill or attribute, like compassion, honesty, courage, were all found to increase resilience in individuals and increase their sense of self-worth.

It was found helpful to be able to think, reflect, face the challenge by prioritising the values held, seeing the stress as an opportunity to engage with the situation in a way that reflects it. It could be an opportunity to show more empathy, placing self-interest as less important, show forgiveness for another’s inadequacies, giving precious time and knowledge to a particular challenge, which might be meeting the value of civic mindedness or philanthropy. Being action-centred in our approach to overcoming stress can help us to persevere in the difficult circumstances and meet the more challenging goals more effectively.

 

STRESS is GOOD?

Seeing stress as helpful changes the narrative from one which is negative, threatening and based on fear, to one which is positive, stress is now a challenge. The same stressor invokes different reactions in individuals depending on their own self-worth or internal wiring. Low self-worth and self-doubt lowers resilience and self-belief in their own ability to handle the stress. Our physiological reactions are set in train by the initial stance taken on seeing the stressor. Positively viewing the stressor increases heart rate, increases dopamine release which increases motivation to act on the event arising. Increase in energy and adrenaline results.

If stress is viewed as bad, the individual will adopt an avoidance stance, resulting in increased blood pressure, increased inflammation, sometimes throughout the body, due to the brain perceiving a threat to personal safety. (This applies even when all that is under threat is your ego!)

We all have a choice in HOW we perceive stress, is it a challenge or a threat? Creating a mental picture which is solution focused, directed at overcoming the challenge by drawing on existing skills and attributes, creates an inner narrative of resilience.

Resilience ensures greater competence in meeting the stress challenge, whether at home or at work. Regular daily exercise, good balanced nutrition and regular, sufficient sleep patterns will all assist us in being able to view stress more positively, and help us to manage it well. Avoiding stress may not be helping us at all!

What are the Management Standards for work related stress?

The Management Standards define the characteristics or culture of an organisation where the risks from work related stress are being effectively managed and controlled.

The Management Standards cover six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health and well-being, lower productivity and increased sickness absence. In other words, the six Management Standards cover the primary sources of stress at work. These are:

Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment.

Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work.

Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.

Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.

Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles.

Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.

The Management Standards represent a set of conditions that, if present, reflect a high level of health, well-being and organisational performance.

The Management Standards:

Demonstrate good practice through a step by step risk assessment approach;

Allow assessment of the current situation using surveys and other techniques;

Promote active discussion and working in partnership with employees to help decide on practical improvements that can be made;

Help simplify risk assessment for work related stress by: identifying the main risk factors for work related stress;

Helping employers focus on the underlying causes and their prevention; and

Providing a yardstick by which organisations can gauge their performance in tackling the key causes of stress

 

Wellbeing

Wellbeing means feeling good and functioning well.

Feeling good is not just about feeling happy, it also means being curious, engaged, interested and content with your life. Functioning well is about having positive relationships, being in control of your life, and having a sense of purpose.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing are a set of simple steps that anyone can take to improve their wellbeing. Doing more of these simple steps helps build resilience – the ability to cope with stress and recover from setbacks in life.

The 5 Ways to Wellbeing are:

1) Connect

Connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.

2) Keep learning

Learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, or figure out how to fix your bike?

3) Be active

You don’t have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Find the activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.

4) Take notice

Be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness ‘mindfulness’, and it can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.

5) Give to others

Even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.