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Investigating Stress to Build Resilience

In a hectic, demanding and competitive world of business, there is an increasing need to relate to stress differently.


With the pressures of the modern world, there is an ever-increasing need to change your relationship with stress in order to build resilience. This is built by understanding that there is good stress (also known as eustress, which taps into your parasympathetic nervous system) and bad stress (also known as distress, which taps into your sympathetic nervous system).

Unfortunately, the reality is most people are unaware of the different types of stress and simply view all stress as bad. With this prevailing belief, many humans have become stressed about stress, which is not an ideal stress management strategy! This article discusses concepts of stress and the fact that one of the keys to building resilience is connecting with the eustress over the distress, and getting comfortable with the discomfort of stress in order to grow. By delving into the inner workings of stress, we can develop an understanding of how eustress can in fact enable us to live healthier, more fulfilling, meaningful lives unconstrained by disproportionate neurological responses.


A woman's face with a smile, holding a yellow flower.

Eustress


According to 2018 research published by Mills, Reiss and Dombeck, eustress differs from distress with the following characteristics:


  • Feels exciting

  • Energises and motivates

  • Only lasts in the short term

  • Increases focus and performance

  • Perceived as within coping ability


On the other hand, distress, or negative stress is characterised by:


  • Lasting in the short-term and long-term

  • Triggering anxiety and concern

  • Surpassing coping abilities

  • Generating unpleasant feelings

  • Decreasing focus and lowering performance

  • Contributing to health issues


EUSTRESS APPLICATIONS AT WORK


The business sector can greatly advantage from understanding the utility of eustress, and the potential to maximise the performance of employees while ensuring that they are not being overwhelmed by their given tasks. The balance between optimal arousal and performance was sketched out in the Yerkes Dodson law dating from 1908 (see the figure over page) and shows that beyond a certain threshold, performance can become impaired due to excessive anxiety. The Yerkes Dodson Law, which frequently appears in basic management texts, affirms that individuals can only really thrive under certain conditions. This balance often requires people to feel that their responsibilities are accessible yet stimulating, as opposed to overbearing hindrances. At its worst, according to Gavin & Mason (2004), job stress is felt when the demands of the work exceed the workers’ belief in their capacity to cope. As such, research has shown the benefits of workplaces supporting the environment of eustress. Well-managed eustress can allow corporate interests to arise through the optimal performance of their employees.


Stress Arousal


One of the main problems with eustress in the business context is that it has historically been misused and sometimes lacked monitoring of the workers’ adjustment to their tasks and stressors. This is because - while anxiety is a key element necessary to any productivity - too much of it causes distress. Zero stress in a workplace may also be detrimental.


Yerkes Dodson Diagram

If employees don’t feel challenged by the assigned tasks, boredom often arises (Brule & Morgan 2018). This can start a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction in which employees feel frustrated with their performance, with the work itself, and with themselves. This can lower self-esteem, and trouble the workplace. The lack of stimulation or ‘stress’ can cause boredom and depression in other areas of life too.


Some degree of arousal is needed for individuals to perceive their work to be worthy; a compromise is mandatory. Managers are encouraged to establish reasonable boundaries and schedules, cultivate a positive mindset, and support a healthy working space.


How you physically and mentally respond to a stressor depends on a range of factors, but mostly your mindset and the kind of lifestyle you live. A lifestyle adjustment may include adopting a better diet, exercising more, sleeping better and meditating regularly. These can change, minimise and even eliminate a stressor.



Holistic Wellbeing and Wellness in the Workplace


Workstation

Holistic health is an approach to wellness that simultaneously addresses the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual components of health and well-being. As a field of practice, holistic medicine draws from many disciplines to heal people, communities, and even the environment. In a workplace setting, this means healthier, happier and better-performing workplaces and teams.

Dimensions of holistic well-being based on a Kinesiological approach to wellness include:


  • Mental health parameters

  • Emotional states, stability and resilience

  • Physical body health and structure

  • Biochemical factors, including nutrition

  • Environmental factors, including pollution, light, toxins, social media and those around you

  • Social aspects

  • States of stress and anxiety, which are highly correlated with our environment and nutrition

  • Gut health (work by Roberto Mazzoli and Enrica Pessione in 2016 shows the vast majority of neurotransmitters are created in the gut)


VARIETY AND ADDRESSING WELLNESS IN THE WORKPLACE


To properly address wellness in the workplace, a variety of options are necessary, with a recognition that we are all unique with unique needs. This means that a post-COVID cookie-cutter approach is not an option anymore, and variety is necessary so that different wellness options are on offer in businesses, including mindfulness, exercise, talk therapy and Employee Assistance Programs.


Although employees and business teams need variety, every person has one thing in common, and that is the physical and biochemical stress response in their body. As we all know, stress is commonly triggered in the workplace for a variety of reasons relating to both product or service delivery and interpersonal interactions.

Of course, stress itself is the body’s response to any type of threat - real or perceived. A person’s Automatic Stress Response triggers a range of chemical and even physical responses, all occurring rapidly and automatically. The key to mastering stress is to master perception. Fortunately, businesses can do a lot in this area to help mitigate employees' stress response and it starts with the concept of safety. That’s what the stress response was designed for in the first place, to keep us safe and out of danger. So, what key things make us feel safe at work? There are three main pillars that make people feel safe at work:

1. Clarity and clear communication
2. Feeling valued and understood
3. Feeling supported

When creating a safe environment, it is imperative to remember that there is no success without a safe space for employees to work in.


CREATING A CULTURE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY


Creating a culture of psychological safety is key to all kinds of business success, including innovation, agility, and mental well-being. This is because it makes workers feel:


~ Confident in taking calculated risks
~ Comfortable learning new things
~ Capable of pushing the limits of creativity

It also empowers employees to speak up when work-related stress becomes too much or when they’re struggling with their mental health.


To establish a culture of safety and stability, managers should carefully and deliberately set expectations. This creates stability because when people know what’s expected of them, they feel safe. In fact, research shows that employees who strongly agree that their job description aligns with the work they do are 2.5 times more likely than other employees to be engaged! There is also a much-reduced chance for stress responses to take place if expectations are well-established and known.


"Treat your employees like an investment, not a cost" ~ Dan Sullivan

If you are looking to enhance your resilience, you can book a Kinesiology and Coaching session with Katherine Anderson.



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