Stress – Is there a word with more negative connotations? Probably, but this little six letter noun congers up all kinds of feelings and thoughts, most of which; you don’t want to keep hold of.
Left unchecked stress can have a detrimental effect on your physical and emotional well-being and also negatively influence both professional and personal relationships. But there is such a thing as ‘good stress’.
The right amount of stress in areas of your life can help you perform better and achieve your personal goals. Some studies suggest a controlled amount of stress can even help improve cognitive abilities and protect against aging diseases such as Alzheimers by keeping brain cells active.
The key word there is ‘controlled’, you need to be in control of the stress that you’re experiencing for it to remain healthy. Let’s take stress in the workplace as an example.
Controlling Stress in the Workplace
Experiencing prolonged stress at work is a common issue for many of us, but once you gain control; stress can be a great source of motivation. Positive stress can increase your work rate leading to better performance, increased job satisfaction and a greater earning potential.
As always, a healthy work-life balance is important and will help you stay in control of your stress levels. Your week shouldn’t be all business, get the right amount of down-time in there and you’ll find you perform better when you’re at work. Like wise, include a healthy amount of stress and you’ll make better use of your free time.
Measure the time you spend working Vs the time spent on your personal life and maybe have a night off from checking your smartphone for work emails!
Don’t relax too much – not enough stress can be just as bad
Too much stress in the workplace can make you feel over-whelmed and lead to psychological issues, but too little stress can be equally as problematic. It can have a detrimental effect on your career, making you complacent and leaving you bored and unchallenged by your work.
A great way of increasing positive stress is to improve the amount of responsibility that you have. Put a deadline on a piece of work that you’re doing or give yourself a project and tell your colleagues about it. As long as the target is manageable you’ll experience all the benefits of stress, as well as a good dose of motivation and a firm test of character.
Remember: a certain amount of stress is a good thing – you just need to make sure that you’re in control of it.
The science of stress
Ok, it’s time to deconstruct stress, take it’s power away and give you ownership of it – let’s breakdown what stress is. When the brain perceives physical or psychological fear, whether that’s a near miss on the motorway or the repercussions of missing a looming deadline, it starts pumping all sorts of chemicals into our body. Cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine to be exact and almost instantly; your senses sharpen, your heart beats faster and blood glucose levels rise.
This primal reaction by your body is designed to help you survive whatever you’re reacting to – it’s a positive thing. Only when prolonged stress occurs do we suffer negative effects.
The theory goes that the effect of stress on the brain is like an upside-down U, so up to a certain point, stress is positive, boosting performance and cognitive function. After that, it starts to take a negative turn. This is why managing it, where possible, is important – stay in control of stress and you can keep it at positive levels.
Own stress – you’re the boss
So you know how to create positive stress, but how can you bring negative stress back down to healthy levels?
If stress becomes a long term feature of your life then working with a counsellor or therapist can be beneficial in redressing the balance.
Reducing or stopping chronic stress is also possible through some simple techniques that can change the way our brains respond to a stressful situation. Coping techniques such as meditation, deep breathing and exercise all help. Cardiovascular exercise can actually elevate stress hormones in the body, making you more resistant to psychological stress.
Remember: Stress is energy and too much of it makes you feel overwhelmed. Through coping techniques and by staying in control you can channel this energy into productive action. Your goal shouldn’t be to eradicate stress from your life, but to harness it to help you achieve your goals, stress is good – own it and use it!
Read the book: If you want to read a great book on how to reduce your levels of stress and anxiety using meditation and mindfulness then a great book to read is Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams (affiliate link). Mark takes you through an eight week plan of meditation exercises that have been proven to reduce levels of stress, help those with depression and deal with anxiety.