There is no doubt that modern life can be stressful. Pressure can come at us from all quarters. Increasing demands from work and home can make us feel that we are constantly at bursting point. Add to that the impact of technology – the risk that we are always online, plugged in and available – and we can be left feeling that stress is controlling us rather than the other way around.
We put significant resources into developing our careers, but we don’t spend enough time learning how to keep ourselves healthy and performing mentally and physically at a high level.
Luckily, we now have a much greater understanding of how stress works, how we can alleviate its impact and how we can actually use stress to thrive.
Impact of Stress
Not all stress is negative. We need a little stress at the right level to help us perform, achieve and act when needed. However, if the stress that we are experiencing is too high, constant, and with no recovery in between episodes, it can have a negative impact on all areas of our lives.
Stress clouds our brain, making it hard to recall information and make rational decisions. It raises our heart rate, making us feel on edge and anxious. Some people eat more when they are stressed, others don’t eat enough. Stress impacts our sleep and our ability to respond in an attuned way to those around us.
Left unchecked, longer-term chronic stress can have a much more serious impact on our lives. Chronic stress is linked to a series of health problems including weight gain, digestive problems, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke.
Bad for Business
Stress also has a big impact on business, negatively impacting productivity, staff retention, collaboration and creativity. The HSE Labour Force Survey 2017*, found that 49% of all working days lost were reported to be linked to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, with this figure rising year on year from 2009.
The 2018 UK Workplace Stress Survey** reported 59% of adults surveyed said they were experiencing work-related stress, with 32% reporting that it made them less productive at work.
If not addressed stress causes teams to lose direction and conflictual team politics can develop, hampering progress.
The Benefits of Being Stress Savvy
So why should we take a proactive approach to Stress?
It will make us feel better – it’s as simple as that. We will feel calmer, healthier, happier and more able to cope. Who doesn’t want that?
Learning how to recognise stress and prevent its negative effects will help us to feel more in control.
Our performance at work will improve, we will be more focused and able to sustain effort for longer. We will be smarter too; our memories will be better, and we will be able to think more logically about complex matters. Learning to thrive under pressure will help us to deal with challenging situations, remaining calm and in control. Less defensive, we will be more open to new ideas, collaborating with our colleagues towards common goals.
And the good news doesn’t end there, the positive impact will spread to our relationships and our home life. We will be better able to relax, laugh and feel joy. Our bodies will benefit from better sleep and we will be less inclined to reach for one, or all, of the much-used trio – junk food, alcohol or medication – to help us cope. Our waist lines will thank us too and we will feel that we will have more energy and space in our lives for the activities that bring us pleasure and personal growth.
Persistent stress is the silent universal modern-day condition that is currently having devastating impacts on health, performance and the quality of life of so many. It doesn’t have to be that way. Learning how to recognise, respond to and recover from stress is the key to thriving in today’s world.