Can you remember the last time you really benefited from being stressed?

If not, you’re not alone. The current dialogue around stress is based almost solely on the idea of a fight-or-flight response to perceived problems, which over time can lead to decreased physical and mental stamina.

Recent findings suggest that this narrow view of stress can lead to fundamentally flawed wellbeing practices. When recognised and utilised, the right amount of stress can lead to improved memory, attention, and physiological resilience.

By adapting our idea of stress to include both positive and negative effects, we can develop better stress responses and decrease risk of burnout.

The stress paradoxharnessing the power of stress

Research from Stanford’s Dr Alison Crum suggests that a shift in our mindsets regarding stress can help us harness those positive effects and actively use them to our advantage. In her study, subjects who watched an informative video about the positive effects of stress three times a week experienced a significant reduction in negative stress-associated symptoms and an increase in productivity.

It’s important to see both sides of the story, and develop a nuanced understanding of both positive and negative stress effects. By sharing this mindful process with colleagues and employees, you can help each individual feel in control of their own stress mindsets and actively choose a positive approach.

1 – See it

The first step of this process is learning to recognise stress, rather than ignoring it or passing it off as “all in your head”. Paying mindful attention to symptoms of stress and tracing them back to probable stressors can help develop a more rounded view of their experience. Consider practising mindfulness in order to get in tune with your body’s stress signals.

Ask yourself the following: “Are my reactions facilitating my purpose?” “What changes can I make to my responses so that this stress feels enhancing as opposed to deteriorating?” “How can I make this stress into a learning opportunity?”

2 – Own it

It’s edifying to remember that we only get stressed by things we care about. Considering this fact can help us de-stigmatise stress and own it as a symptom of care. Try affirming to yourself, “I’m stressed about ___ because I care about ___”, and formulating positive ways to express that care.

3 – Use it

The final step is to turn stress into a tool. Instead of dreading the sense of urgency that stress can inspire, re-frame this as motivation and put it to good use. Embrace stress as your body’s first response to potential burnout, and have a considered, deliberate response at the ready.

stress and performanceWhen under moderate amounts of stress, we are more physiologically alert and focused. This allows us a powerful “second wind” when it comes to addressing problems. However, it’s vital to ensure that we’re focusing our renewed energies on the right thing – stress can blur our vision and make it difficult to prioritise tasks.

With regular three-minute mindfulness practice, we can strengthen our ability to separate ourselves from stress-induced thoughts and feelings, seeing our problems from a more objective perspective and identifying possible courses of action to apply our motivation to.

It would be dangerous to deny the potentially harmful aspects of stress, or to seek out stressful experiences for their potentially positive effects. However, understanding and honouring the paradoxical nature of stress can help retrain the brain to respond consciously and deliberately.

Sharing stress-positivity

It’s important to ensure you’ve started adjusting your own stress mindset before helping others with theirs. By sharing your own stress-positive experiences, you can support coworkers and employees in creating a genuine paradigm shift in the workplace, leading to powerful thinking and greater productivity.

Ready to change the way you think about workplace stress? Get in touch and see how we can support you.

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