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  • Leigh Kester

#2 Is there a place for stress at work?

Is stress your friend or foe?

positive stressed person working from home at her desk with a laptop

Everyone will experience stress, it is inevitable. The workplace is an environment which should stretch us – with new challenges, experiences and responsibility, sometimes this can lead to feelings pressure and stress. But should we perceive stress as a challenge and welcome it as a friend or see it as a weakness and not admit it?

With stress comes, feeling, behaviour, and physical symptoms – more detail of what these are in our ‘Bringing stress to the workplace’ blog. There are negative health implications to stress, most people are familiar with these by observing colleagues, family, friends or perhaps this is something you have experienced. Shown below are the usual associations to stress, which tend to be all negative and are typically expected when it comes to experiencing a stressful situation and even what is assumed by others when you say that you have had a stressful day.

A list of physical stress signs - headaches or dizziness, muscle tension or pain, stomach problems, chest pain or a faster heartbeat, sexual problems. Mental stress signs - difficulty concentrating, struggle to make decisions, feeling overwhelmed, constantly worrying, being forgetful

As with most situations, alongside the negative associations come the positive effects. Stress in a manageable state has been proven to help boost brainpower through productivity, alertness, and performance. This is demonstrated when an individual is given a deadline, how often is it that you have procrastinated or put off a laborious task to then realise the deadline is around the corner? With that extra motivation and stress, you can get the job done more productively, timely and at a high standard. This has been termed ‘eustress’ by Han Selye the founder of stress theory.

Eustress is the positive stress, with good or useful outcomes. Examples of eustress effects are improved memory, this will be on a short-term basis, perhaps to see you through an intense meeting, to see you to the end of a project or even a blog. During the stage of eustress there can be an increased health immunity to the individual experiencing it, you can build resilience for future stressful situations making your tolerance higher or even knowing what to expect can help - with laborious task you can see stress as a challenge that you are able to meet rather than a barrier, this will lead to higher motivation to get the task done.

"The mind can go either direction under stress - toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training." - Frank Hertbert, Dune

In 2012 a study was held monitoring 30,000 adults in the United States, the purpose of this study was to explore if the perception that stress affects our health, matters? The short answer to this is, yes. In the study it was found those who have experience stress in the past year had a 43% increased risk of premature death, but this is true only for those who believed stress to be harmful. Those who experienced stress but didn’t perceive this as harmful were no more likely to die and had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study. Our perception and ability to use stress will greatly impact us through health, jobs or relationships. It is key that as individuals we don’t let stress take the reins and we have control.

It is valuable and important to be able to identify what level of stress is good for us, what are we able to redirect or use to create a positive outcome and what stress could be potentially harmful if left unchecked. Stress with negative outcomes, can be draining, unmotivating, distracting and potentially damaging to our professional and personal relationships. It is critical to be able to acknowledge signs of stress in ourselves and in others, this way we will be able to use coping mechanisms to help ease the pressure of stress through our behaviours, physical and mental reactions.

A person on the phone with the word 'Productivity' written on a large white board behind them

As we have explored, positive stress can really aid productivity and this is the stress we shouldn’t shy away from because a particular task is stressful doesn’t mean it will be any less enjoyable, positively challenging or rewarding. In fact, overcoming stress related barriers through preconceived perceptions could make the completion of a task more rewarding when the work has been done productively and whilst you’re at peak performance. This newly found confidence could then lead to greater appreciation of our own abilities, our self-worth and determination to work.

Yes, there is a place for stress in the workplace. When we can perceive it positively and as a motivational tool, we are able to carry out tasks and assignments at a higher standard and are able to exceed our own expectations. However, this doesn’t mean we should encourage our employees, colleagues or even ourselves to run in a state of constant stress, this will not create a healthy or sustainable work environment. Instead, when a stressful situation or assignment arises find ways to embrace this as the challenge it is. It’s time to greet stress as an old friend, to embrace the new challenges and experience it will bring.


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