This April is National Stress Awareness Month. How timely, given the extraordinary political situation being experienced in the UK right now, on top on the deepening urgency of tackling climate change (and biodiversity loss, single use plastic, etc…)
Actually let’s stop right there. No need to add to the mental load we’re already carrying – this is a practical article on how to deal with everything that we’re facing.
This month, let’s take the opportunity to pay close attention to our mental health and well-being. Let’s give ourselves permission to switch off, to rest and relax.
Now I know how hard that can be. It may also feel like the very last thing we should be doing. After all, we need to be taking action right? More action, more quickly, right now!
First we need to make sure we are aligned to the best course of action. When we are calm and relaxed (in a parasympathetic nervous system state), we are best placed to think clearly, see more solutions and select the appropriate option. When stressed (in a sympathetic nervous system state), we are not.
Learning how to effectively manage our stress is actually one of the most productive thing we can take action on.
Done collectively, this will help us to better navigate our turbulent times.
Stressed? You mean distressed.
The initial problem we face is that most of us use the wrong word to explain how we’re feeling.
Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that:
‘Demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilise’ Richard S Lazarus, Psychological stress and the coping process 1966, New York, McCraw-Hill
So we first need to understand the demands upon us as it is through experiencing these demands that we start to feel pressure.
Pressure is felt by different people in different ways:
- For most of life’s activities, a certain amount of ‘pressure’ is good for us. This is ‘eustress’ – the positive experience of pressure.
- When pressure increases, our performance improves. It helps us achieve our targets, meet deadlines and manage our priorities.
- It takes us out of our comfort zone and into stretch, where we then feel good about ourselves, gain a sense of achievement, of learning and progress.
- Peak performance is driven by an oscillation between periods of intense pressure and periods of recovery.
This can be best shown in the diagram below.
We need a certain amount of pressure in our lives to thrive. Pressure helps us to push ourselves to achieve our potential. But we need to recognise when positive pressure has shifted us into a place of strain rather than stretch. This is when we experience distress (what we call stress) – the negative experience of pressure.
Recognise Your Thresholds
Do you know when you’ve shifted out of ‘stretch’ into ‘strain’? Not sure?
Then you need to start tuning into your own signs and responses to mounting pressure so that you build awareness of how stress manifests itself in you.
How do you recognise when you are stressed?
- Identify the early warning signs that you are getting stressed. These will be different for different people and can change over time.
- Download our special worksheet to help you learn your specific early warning signs. This is vital information which will then help you learn to use stress reduction techniques at the very first sign of stress, helping you avoid long term repercussions. Access the free download here: WINS_Signs of Stress Worksheet
- Tip: The earliest sign you identify probably isn’t the very first sign that you are starting to feel the pressure. Ask someone who knows you very well (either in work, at home, or both) and see what they identify.
- Don’t let your passion for creating positive change in the world become a barrier to your self care. We all need to learn to down tools, switch off and relax every day.
How can you build more relaxation into your daily life?
We’ll be sharing practical stress reduction techniques and ‘top tips’ in the next article of this series as part of April’s National Stress Awareness month.