What is the Upside of Stress and what does it mean?

With so many organisations currently discussing, and looking to address, stress and burnout, we may need to consider if we might be exacerbating the situation by focusing on the negative aspects of stress.

Consider the following statements:

  1. Stress is harmful and should be avoided, reduced, and managed.
  2. Stress is helpful and should be accepted, utilised, and embraced.

Which of the above statements do you resonate with?  It turns out the one you agree with is going to have a significant impact on your stress levels.  For instance, if we believe stress is harmful, we are more likely to experience more stress, have a strong negative reaction to stress and generate more physiological downsides (such as illness) from stress.

If we agree with the second statement that stress is helpful, we are likely to have a lower response to stress, handle stressful events better and have a quicker physiological recovery after stressful situations.

Our perception of stress has been shown (Crum, Salovey and Achor, 2013) to also influence our longevity, physical health and resilience.

The ‘apples in a barrel’ analogy

In positive psychology, we often use the analogy of apples in a barrel, and in the workplace you may hear people complain about a ‘bad apple’, referring to an individual in the team.  In a scenario like this, the individual apple, the other apples, the barrel and the barrel makers need to be considered collectively.

We acknowledge we may not always be able to change the barrel us little apples are sitting in i.e. the systems and processes, pressures and environment impacting the apples. So in this instance, we need to help all the apples experience the barrel differently.

At the Langley Group we have been running our Upside of Stress webinar series for global clients for a while now, focusing on shifting the way we experience stress.  The Upside of Stress explores how stress influences us and how we can change the stress response of fight, flight, freeze, into a more useful response – personally and professionally.

The key to stress and burnout is to understand that we experience stress because we care.  You do not get stressed about things you don’t care about.  Think of the last time you felt ‘stressed’ – was it about your job, your role, your team, your family, your money, your home, or your children?  Chances are it was related to something that you care about.  This could be linked to your values – i.e. if you value fairness, you may find you get ‘stressed’ about unfair situations.  If you value wellbeing and you have been working long hours, you may feel ‘stressed’ because you are going against your own wellbeing.

What can we do to prevent stress and burnout? 

We can focus on changing the barrel if we have that influence, and we can stop and notice.  Notice when we are feeling stressed and reflect on what we care about.  Then we can channel our stress response into something more useful.

Two alternative responses to the fight, flight, freeze are:

  • The challenge response – Take action, do something. Don’t sit and wait for someone to change the barrel. Make a choice, and challenge yourself to do something and make a change
  • The tend and befriend response – this is about reaching out and asking for help; connecting with someone, talking, asking, sharing, helping someone else. If we can switch our response to connecting with others, this can help us significantly, as one of the biggest contributors to wellbeing is human connection.

The Langley Group have an amazing suite of virtual learning sessions that are fun and interactive and enable us to share the learning to global audiences.  I often spend my evenings, or the early hours when others are sleeping, running 60- or 90-minute webinars to audiences of hundreds around the world and I consider myself so lucky to be able to do this.  Having 400 people from around the world sharing stories and learning strategies to improve their skills, so they can flourish, and potentially stay away from experiencing burnout, is a huge privilege and makes an enormous difference.

Plus, I get to do them in my pyjamas!!

If you want to learn more about the Upside of Stress, ask our team for more information.