Only joking!! We know that most people think they don’t need more stress, they need less. But do you know the level of stress that ensures you’re at your optimum performance level? Or could you be someone who believes that you have to be anxious and worried about all eventualities in order to be in control?
The current economic marketplace has given rise to the additional anxiety of being made redundant/losing your job, and stress if employees aren’t replaced when they leave the burden of doing additional workload. The resulting negativity can breed more negativity, so organisations need to work out ways of ensuring that stress levels in their employees are managed effectively.
Too little stress and your body is more like being in sleep mode – not motivated, can’t be bothered. We all need a little stimulus to get going (like the alarm clock that reminds us to get up in the morning). Too much stress and we can become argumentative, avoid the situation completely or stop being able to think clearly. Basically we go into fight, flight or freeze.
Our brains have an alert system for anxiety (threats to physical and psychological needs), secreting cortisol and adrenalin, and warning us to take protective measures. We over-estimate the threat, as this gives us a guarantee that actual risks are never missed but, unfortunately for us, also gives the same credence to ambiguous threats! Negative thinking and negative words also send the same alarm messages, interfering with our ability to make rational decisions.
But a healthy amount of stress and anxiety is actually motivating, allowing us to maintain focus and clarity. Individuals and teams demonstrate creativity, innovation and action-orientation. So how can you make sure you keep to this moderate stress level in your job?
During my coaching work, I’ve met a number of people who are holding on to their anxious or worried states because they feel it’s a way of maintaining control of what might happen in the future. “If I can come up with every eventuality, and think about it (i.e. worry about it), then I must be more prepared to handle it if it arises!”
But we’ve also all heard that most of the things we worry about never actually happen. Additionally, how likely is it that you can cover every eventuality anyway? It’s important to note, however, that when we’re anxious or stressed, to provide us the comfort of security, the threat will usually get distorted. So when we worry, our worries seem a lot bigger to us than they might ever be in reality.
Consciously you may wonder “what’s the point”, but that doesn’t stop you worrying! Our underlying belief system strongly influences the levels of fear and anxiety we experience. If you believe that you “have to worry about situations to be in control”, then you are going to hold on to that belief until you decide otherwise. In most cases, you may not even realise that this is what you’re doing and this is where self-awareness is key to recognising what level of stress you’re at.
- Remember that our emotions are heightened with stress, and taking things personally is part of the fight/flight reflex to protect us. So take a moment to step back from the situation and review it dispassionately.
- Ask yourself whether the issue you’re worrying about is really an issue. Once you take the emotion out of it, and realise what you’re brain is doing, you can take action to solve it more effectively.
- Write out what you believe to be true about yourself. Are you capable, are there things you believe you really can’t do, are there situations you’re not comfortable in, what can you do well?
- Identify any negative thoughts, write them down and then take time to “reframe” them. What are the alternatives to thinking about them negatively, what other options for a positive focus could you chose?
- Identify where you have been successful in dealing with and resolving unexpected issues that have arisen previously. Choose to recognise that you can gain control of a situation as and when it presents itself, rather than having to think of every eventuality.
- Learn from past mistakes and successes, but aim to live in the present as that’s where you’re actually in control.
- Do what needs to be done – real problems have real solutions.
- When you feel you are too stressed take deep breaths and relax, take some time out (go for a walk, exercise, yoga). Be conscious of your stress levels throughout the day, understand when they are too high and reducing your effectiveness and aim to maintain your optimum level.
For examples of what you can do in your team to reduce stress, read my previous article.
Find out more about self-awareness in the workplace and how executive coaching can help. Understanding how your beliefs can be influencing your level of anxiety, worry and stress (and even phobias) can be really effective and we have a number of coaching methods that have dramatically improved our coaching clients’ results and career success.
“I’ve only had one conversation with Karen so far and my friends and colleagues have already noticed the difference in me. I was constantly anxious and worrying about every possible issue that could arise at work and in my personal life, and now I have a completely different perspective.”