That sounds like the opening to a crime thriller, doesn't it?
When we hear the word stress, we often instinctively assume it's bad, but stress can be good. It's the adrenaline in your body motivating you to get through an exam or study deadline. It's the push to help you manage a big life or work event.
Having worked in the corporate event industry for many years, I know all about work events and the stress that comes along with them. It takes a lot of adrenaline and motivation to push you through and it’s often followed by a little bit of a crash afterwards. How many of us get ill the minute we take our foot off the pedal?
Stress can be a great motivator. It’s a necessary emotion for human survival. But how can you tell when good stress gets too much and turns into the negative stress that we all know too well and commonly associate with the word?
It is crucial that as employers and employees, we learn to recognise the symptoms of stress in ourselves and in others so that we can manage it effectively.
In episode 43 of my Mindful Business podcast, I discussed this exact subject.
It might sound like a strange question to ask, but how do you recognise when you're stressed? Surely it’s not possible to be in a high state of stress and not know it? If this is your response, read on, you might be surprised!
Firstly, to deal with stress is to take steps to understand it.
We live in a society where we are constantly in a state of stress, even if it's low level.
It has become natural for us to operate in that state, expected even. We are regularly in a fight-or-flight state. All our caveman instincts are triggered, which means that we're constantly on the lookout for danger. Our protective mode is on. Only instead of hungry tigers, we’re dealing with things that outwardly seem to be a very normal part of our everyday lives.
Even a commute in heavy traffic, or getting on a busy train, is recognised by our body as low-level stress.
When we encounter these situations repeatedly, we think it's normal and we start to train our bodies to be prepared. It means that for many of us, we're constantly operating in a state of stress and not even realising it.
With that in mind, we must learn to recognise the symptoms of stress by being more self-aware. This allows us to recognise our symptoms early on and catch the stressors before the stress becomes detrimental to us.
Can you think of a time that you’ve been in a stressful situation? What feelings and thoughts came to mind? What behaviours did you have?
The first thing to consider is the thoughts that came into your head when you felt stressed. Perhaps they were thoughts of overwhelm, panic or a racing mind. Recognising these thoughts can help you understand your triggers and manage them effectively.
The next step is to recognise the physical feelings that came up. Was it anxiety, a tight chest, a headache, sweaty hands or that feeling in the pit of your stomach? These physical feelings are often more obvious to recognise than thoughts.
Finally, we need to recognise the behaviours that manifested because of those thoughts and feelings. Did you lash out at someone, or withdraw from social situations? Did you engage in unhealthy habits such as overeating or drinking alcohol? Recognising these behaviours can help you identify how stress shows up in your life.
Recognising the symptoms of stress in ourselves is crucial to managing it effectively. Understanding our stress reaction can also help us understand the behaviour of others, adding a layer of empathy to what could otherwise become a confrontational situation in the workplace.
Identifying Stressful Situations.
Now that you’ve thought about recognising our stress responses, whether they’re physical or emotional, you need to identify the situations that are stressful to you. We’re all unique people and what may be energising for one person could be incredibly difficult for another.
Think of a real-life situation where you felt stressed. It could be a significant event like the pandemic or a difficult work situation, maybe a project that you’re struggling with or a colleague that you don’t get on with. It could be something less obvious and recurring, like driving in busy motorway traffic each morning.
Consider where the root of the stress comes from. It may be that we have a tough time in our home life, but it manifests at work. In that example, work isn’t the stressor, that’s just where the stress shows up. Maybe you had a stressful morning on the tube but it affects your behaviour during a meeting later in the day. Understanding where our stress comes from can help us manage it more effectively.
Once we have identified the situations that are causing us stress and the symptoms we experience, we can start to think about whether it is good or bad stress.
Understanding When Good Stress Becomes Bad Stress
Good stress can be motivating and exciting, but staying in that stressful state for too long can be bad for us. It's crucial to recognise if the stress is doing good things, such as motivating us, or if it is making us unhappy.
Most of the stress signals we identify, such as physical symptoms like headaches, a racing heart or snapping at people, are likely to be negative. That said, it's important to remember that some stress is a natural part of being human and is our body’s way of telling us we need to make some changes in our lives.
It’s also important to note that how we react to stress can change during a prolonged period. A good example would be planning a big work event. Although it’s stressful, it's also exciting and fun because you're passionate about it. As the event is getting closer, and you've been in that stressed state for a long time, the project becomes all-consuming. If things start to go wrong, maybe the catering pulled out, your emotions are getting higher, and the good stress quickly turns into bad stress.
Learning To Rest To Help Control Stress.
We can all learn a lot from professional athletes, who are often working around high levels of physical and mental stress in their work and personal lives. athletes, who are often working around high levels of physical and mental stress in their work and personal lives.
Athletes are constantly in a state of upward trajectory with pressure to perform and do better. Maybe they’re working towards a big competition or a race. They reach their peak on race day.
The run-up to that event is usually long though. They've been working towards their goal for weeks or months, and that’s stressful.
This is why after that event; athletes take optimum rest. They give an optimum performance that takes them up to the race day. And then they have optimum rest.
Most of us don't think of our workflow in the same way but we should. We’re pushed by our employers (or ourselves even) to work at that top level continuously. We don't factor in rest breaks in the same way. If you don't take a break and you don't have recovery time, then of course your body is going to suffer. You're putting extra pressure on yourself and not allowing yourself the space to wind down.
We wouldn't expect athletes to perform at that level continuously. So why do we expect that of ourselves?
Five Steps Towards Balance
So what can we do to help ourselves stay balanced when it comes to stress. Below are five steps towards reducing bad stress.
Step One – Healthy Habits Consider supporting your well-being by maintaining habits and practices that keep you healthy and steady during challenging times. You can manage your energy levels and take steps to rebalance yourself by practising relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
Step Two – Stay Connected Staying connected with friends and family is a great way to bring perspective in while eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep will help you to be more resilient and better handle your emotions.
Step Three – Observe The Signs Good stress can be identified by how passionate and energised we feel about something, whereas bad stress becomes all-consuming and can lead to burnout. Pay attention to the signals our body is giving us, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating can both be signs of stress. We must also be aware of how long we have been in a state of stress and how it is affecting our performance.
Step Four – Learn The Difference We need to understand the difference between fear and excitement and between adrenaline and stress. Take a deep breath, pause and then slowly release it. Do you feel calmer? If so, take a pause whenever you need to. Notice if you are feeling excited adrenaline in your body or notice if it's feeling stressful.
Step Five – Stay Aware Pay attention to your lifestyle and habits. Stress can affect our daily routine and cause us to skip activities we enjoy or avoid social interactions. If you find you are withdrawing from life, be aware of that and seek help if you need it. Or simply remember to repeat step one.
If you maintain healthy habits such as regular exercise, a balanced diet and adequate sleep, you are in a much better position to stay healthy during challenging times.
Prioritise Self-Care Amidst Stress.
One thing I want you to think about is that whatever is happening, make sure you keep a space for the things in your life that you love.
Book it in and maintain it.
And it's much better if those things are small, quick activities you can do little and often. Maybe it’s a daily 15-minute walk, a short swim or a coffee date.
The big things that the media make us associate with self-care, spa days and weekends away, those things tend to be harder to fit into our schedules and so we don’t do them.
How A Life More Mindful Can Help.
I hope you found this useful, I'd love to hear your thoughts! You might be interested in downloading my Well-Being Wealth in Events report, a dedicated event-industry research piece produced by a.life.more.mindful.
It is an insight into some of the causes and impacts of stress on the event industry in the UK.
It also explores potential solutions, offered by event professionals themselves - and provides an interesting perspective into the future of healthy, 'wellthy' workplaces.