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Do we really need to stress-less?

Wildgoose Learning Associate and Founder of Everyday People, Kat Hounsell, discusses stressing-less as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. 

From 14-20 May 2018 we’re being asked the question – Stress: are we coping?

It’s the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week and a great topic for debate, especially in our workplaces.

Surely work and stress go hand in hand?

Writing this blog falls within my working day, and quite honestly, I’m feeling a little stressed about it. There’s a slight tightness in my chest, I’m questioning the words that are falling onto the paper and there’s a desire to slam shut my laptop and run out into this beautiful May sunshine. My mind and body have perceived some form of threat and they want to get me out of this situation. Pronto.

Here’s the good news. Stress helps us. Stress is one big reason why, even after 6 million years, humans are walking the face of the earth. The infamous ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response has a lot to do with it… one day, whilst out hunting, you come face to face with a razor-sharped tooth, roaring lion. Within a blink of an eye your brain has sensed danger and kick-started your nervous system. You’ve got a rush of all the right hormones and glucose your body needs to react appropriately and keep you alive. Thank you stress!

The thing is, this blog isn’t going to eat me. Running away or freezing in front of my screen would be more harmful than helpful in this situation. That’s true for most situations we now face in the 21st Century workplace. Instead what we need in moments like this is just the right dose of stress to keep us motivated, focused and productive. What we need is something called eustress. This is the good stress that gets us jumping out of bed in the morning proclaiming “I feel excited!” for the challenges ahead.

We all get stressed, it’s part of being alive and a world with no stress is too rose-tinted for my liking. That’s why it’s essential to clarify the type of stress we’re talking about during Mental Health Awareness Week is distress and something called allostatic load. When we experience ‘fight or flight’ regularly, our body takes a physical beating. All those hormones and the high level of glucose flying around becomes like a poison and, over time, can increase our risk of heart and circulatory diseases, worsen diabetes, and dampen our immune system. There is a big risk factor when it comes to our Mental Health and developing, or worsening, conditions such as clinical anxiety and depression.

According to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), in 2015/16 over 480,000 people in the UK reported that work-related stress was making them ill. This amounts to nearly 40% of all work-related illness, and comes with a financial burden – according to a Deloitte analysis, the cost to employers is between £33-42 billion per year.

It’s no wonder that Wellbeing was highlighted as a strategic priority in the latest Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report (2018) with further benefits revealed too – 43% of organisations surveyed believed that well-being reinforces their organisation’s mission and vision, 60% reported that it improves employee retention, and 61% said that it improves employee productivity and bottom-line business results.

So, do our people really need to stress-less? If we’re talking about the bad and ugly stress, then yes. It’s getting in the way of them making the most of life and doing their best work.

Mental Health is a topic we’re passionate about at Wildgoose so earlier this year we conducted our own survey on the topic, and that inspired us to design the Stress Less programme especially for the workplace. It’s a highly interactive and experiential half-day event that we ‘stress-tested’ earlier this year with a willing group of HR and people professionals from a range of industries.

The group:

  • Explored the latest statistics around stress and mental health in the workplace
  • Recognised bad stress vs. good stress and considered impact on performance
  • Discovered wellbeing best practice to reduce personal stress levels
  • Learnt an easy to do mindfulness practice
  • Reflected on what will work for them – there’s no one size fits all
  • Left with practical ideas to experiment with back at work
  • Built their professional network

86% of participants said they found the course personally valuable and 88% said they will be recommending the Stress Less programme within their organisation. We’ve now incorporated feedback from the group and are looking forward to seeing these statistics increase further as we roll-out the programme and help more people to stress-less, and more organisations to reap the rewards.

During the programme participants discover their own coping mechanisms for dealing with stress, as what works for one person may not work for another. Here’s some of my favourite ways to beat the bad stress, have fun and get work done.

To keep the stress at bay:

  • Get out in nature as much as possible
  • Regularly connect with friends and family
  • Write down 3 things I’m grateful for every day

Dealing with an unhelpful ‘fight or flight’ moment:

  • Notice how I’m feeling and share this with someone
  • Go for a 5-minute walk and breathe deeply
  • Tell myself “I feel excited!”

How do you stress-less?

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