Dealing with Stress

Posted On 18 Jul 2017

Dealing with Stress

The first thing to realise is that pressure or stress is an internal physical reaction, created by our own emotional response to a situation. Our beliefs about pressure are the most important element. A study of 30,000 American adults over 8 years showed that, of people with high pressure lifestyles, those who believed stress was harmful were 43 per cent more likely to die than those who believed stress was not harmful. It was the belief that made the difference, not the pressure level.

There are four keys to preventing pressure from becoming harmful in your team:

1) Have a positive attitude to pressure. Acknowledge that it exists and create the belief that it is helpful. The body’s physical stress reaction (such as increased heart rate sending increased oxygen levels to the brain) actually prepare us to perform at our best. Many believe this dates back to our primitive fight or flight response to danger.

2) Develop personal resilience. When pressure starts to affect our performance, it can be helpful to refocus on past successes, particularly where we have been successful in a similar situation. Take the time to create a physical list of successes and achievements and refer back to this to reignite confidence under pressure.

3) Create a social element to the work environment. There is no doubt that people cope better under pressure when they have a social support network around them. People are often reluctant to use their personal social network (partners, friends) to offload negative feelings about work pressure, so having that ability at work can be vital. Make sure people who work together in your team get to know each other on a personal level. This also makes it easier to spot the signs when someone in your team is feeling under pressure and intervene earlier. The internal negativity of pressure can build if not shared. Interestingly, caring for others also increases our own resilience thanks to a hormone called oxytocin, so the benefits are mutual.

4) Anticipate and prepare for pressure situations. We can learn from professional sportspeople who spend hours mentally and physically preparing to perform under pressure. Having a method or routine which we are able to deploy helps us to perform under pressure – think of rugby goal kickers who go through the same routine for every kick.

Strategies for dealing with pressure over time include:

  • Maintaining perspective – will I really still be worried about this in a year’s time?
  • Aligning activity to key goals – is this difficult activity moving me towards a key outcome? If not, is it worth worrying about (or even worth doing)?
  • Regular review – learning from what went wrong is useful in preventing repeat mistakes. Just as important (but often neglected) is learning from what went well in order to repeat successes. This also helps to develop personal and team resilience.

Tactics for dealing with a pressure situation today include:

  • Avoid “awfulizing”. Don’t get caught in the rabbit hole of imagining all the bad things that will happen.
  • Look for the positive elements of the situation and focus on those. This will dampen down the negative internal dialogue.
  • Ask yourself if your thoughts are helpful to the situation. If not, dismiss them.
  • Focus on the next step. If you can’t see the wood for the trees, just focus on getting past the next tree.

Posted in Occupational Health

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