You probably hear something about stress every day. Stress at home, stress at work, stress, stress, stress. It’s an incredibly popular subject. Maybe hearing about stress all the time makes you feel more, well, stressed.
A survey of British adults by the Mental Health Foundation found that 59% said their lives now are more stressful than they were five years ago. 40% of all workplace absences are due to stress. The workplace culture that encourages employees to be available “at all times” isn’t helping either.
But a new study shows that much of what we do to relieve stress can actually cause additional stress. The research found that “covering up” stress makes it worse. Instead, they’ve identified some new strategies for embracing stress rather than resisting it.
Harvard University faculty member Susan David says that rather than trying to rid yourself of stress, you should learn to deal with it in more effective ways. She compares stress to listening to the radio: If you don’t like a station, you don’t play another station louder, trying to block out the first station. Instead, you change to a different station.
Same goes for stress — by attempting to “cover up” stress you’re just adding noise. This leaves us equally as stressed but also frustrated because our attempts to alleviate stress have failed.
Stress is an evolutionary response to danger. When you’re stressed, your body kicks into high gear, allowing you to run faster and jump higher.
The problem is harnessing this energy and using it effectively, instead of needlessly worrying. David says in Harvard Business Review that research shows that people who view their stress as a pump-up mechanism are able to use that energy for good:
“When your heart starts beating fast and your palms get sweaty, thank your body: Now you can walk into the meeting or interaction feeling ready for anything.”
Stress is your body’s natural reaction. Getting to the bottom of how you deal with it is a good step towards coping. How do you behave when you’re stressed? What’s your mental reaction to being stressed?
David suggests that “unhooking” is one way to deal with stress better. Examining the reaction — going from “I feel stressed” to “I am stressed — is a positive first step. Looking at the situation objectively and responding consciously put you back in control.
The reality is that, in the workplace, you’re going to be stressed. Finding ways to use that energy instead of covering it up can help you work more efficiently — and stay more sane.