When we think of stress, we often associate it with negative connotations: sleepless nights, anxiety, and burnout. However, in the context of the workplace, stress can be a catalyst for growth, productivity, and personal development. While excessive stress can be detrimental, a moderate amount can actually be beneficial. In this blog, I want to explore the unexpected advantages of stress in the workplace and how it can we can harness it to create a thriving and resilient workforce.
For many years I have discussed with clients the concepts of eustress and distress, and these ideas have been developed and discussed by various researchers and psychologists over time to explain the different effects and perceptions of stress on individuals.
The term “eustress” was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye. Selye is widely recognized for his research on stress and his development of the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) theory, which describes the body’s response to stress. While studying the effects of stress on the human body, Selye observed that not all stress is negative and that certain types of stress can have positive effects on an individual’s well-being and performance. He introduced the term “eustress” to distinguish positive stress from its negative counterpart, distress. Selye’s work significantly contributed to our understanding of stress and its impact on human health.
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Some of the benefits he identified where:-
· Enhanced Performance:
- A certain level of stress can act as a motivational force, pushing individuals to perform at their best. When faced with challenging tasks or tight deadlines, our bodies release stress hormones, such as adrenaline, which increase focus, alertness, and energy levels. This heightened state of arousal can result in improved productivity, increased efficiency, and enhanced problem-solving skills.
· Increased Adaptability:
- Stressful situations often require us to think on our feet, adapt quickly, and find creative solutions. When individuals are pushed beyond their comfort zones, they develop the ability to think more flexibly and creatively, enabling them to navigate complex problems effectively. This adaptability not only benefits individuals in their current roles but also prepares them for future challenges and opportunities.
· Strengthened Resilience:
- Experiencing manageable levels of stress can help build resilience in individuals and teams. When faced with adversity, individuals learn to cope with pressure, bounce back from setbacks, and persevere in the face of challenges. This resilience is a valuable asset in the workplace, as it enables employees to handle change, uncertainty, and demanding situations with composure and determination.
· Improved Decision-Making:
- Stress can sharpen our cognitive abilities, including decision-making skills. When under pressure, our brains activate the prefrontal cortex, responsible for critical thinking and problem-solving. This heightened cognitive function allows individuals to make faster, more accurate decisions, as they are forced to prioritize and weigh options efficiently. As a result, stress can lead to improved decision-making, especially in time-sensitive scenarios.
· Fostering Growth and Learning:
- Stressful situations can be tremendous opportunities for personal growth and learning. When faced with challenges, individuals are encouraged to acquire new skills, seek innovative solutions, and expand their knowledge. This constant adaptation and acquisition of new competencies not only benefits employees on an individual level but also contributes to the overall growth and development of the organization.
· Building Stronger Connections:
- Shared stress experiences can create strong bonds among team members. When individuals work together to overcome challenging situations, they develop a sense of camaraderie and support. This shared stress fosters collaboration, empathy, and cooperation, leading to enhanced teamwork and a more cohesive work environment.
The challenge in embracing stress as a positive is that it is widely recognised that modern-day humans may be more susceptible to distress due to various social and technological factors, but it is important to note that individuals can still strive to balance their stress levels and cultivate more eustress in their lives. Here are some strategies that I have found useful in finding a balance:
- Self-awareness: Develop self-awareness regarding your stress levels and triggers. Recognize the signs of distress, such as increased irritability, fatigue, or difficulty concentrating. Regularly assess your stress levels to identify when they are becoming overwhelming.
- Prioritize self-care: Make self-care a priority in your daily routine. Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies you enjoy. Take breaks when needed and practice healthy lifestyle habits, including sufficient sleep, balanced nutrition, and regular physical activity.
- Set realistic expectations: Avoid setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. Understand your limits and set achievable goals. Break larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps to reduce overwhelm and increase feelings of accomplishment.
- Time management and organization: Effective time management can help reduce stress levels. Prioritize tasks, create schedules or to-do lists, and allocate specific time slots for different activities. This can enhance productivity and reduce the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed.
- Boundaries and saying no: Establish healthy boundaries in both personal and professional settings. Learn to say no to excessive demands or commitments that may lead to distress. Communicate your limitations assertively, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries that protect your well-being.
- Seek social support: Lean on your support network when needed. Sharing your concerns and seeking support from trusted friends, family members, or professionals can provide valuable insights and help alleviate distress. Connect with like-minded individuals who can offer encouragement and perspective.
- Practice stress reduction techniques: Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your routine, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.
- Seek professional help if needed: If distress becomes overwhelming or persistent, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counsellor. They can provide guidance, strategies, and support tailored to your specific circumstances.
Remember, finding a balance between distress and eustress is an ongoing process. It requires self-awareness, self-care, effective coping strategies, and a willingness to make positive changes in your lifestyle.
So, while stress has long been viewed as an unwelcome aspect of the workplace, it’s essential to recognize its potential benefits. Moderate levels of stress can push us beyond our current limits, leading to improved performance, adaptability, and resilience.
From an organisational perspective harnessing stress effectively, can create a culture that encourages growth, innovation, and strong interpersonal connections. It’s crucial, however, to maintain a balance and ensure that stress levels do not become overwhelming or chronic. With the right approach, stress can be transformed from a burden into a catalyst for success in the modern workplace.
Welcome eustress and enjoy every challenge every day…