Stress Management is all about getting a balance between the level of perceived challenge in a task and your perceived abilities to carry it out.
Stress seems to be something we are all subject too. We mostly talk about the negative impacts and whilst they are many there is some interesting research that may have us thinking differently about stress and its role in work place performance. Stress is something we have all been acquainted with – some of us intimately at times.
We can all put a lot of pressure on ourselves and often end up losing sleep as a result.
In a recent survey 83% of people said that they had experienced stress that affected their performance at work.
As early as the 1908 the Inverted-U model was created by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson. The inverted U is also known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. The model shows the relationship between stress / arousal and performance. Imagine an inverted U. According to the model, peak performance (the GOOD) is achieved when people experience a moderate level of stress, typically close to the top of the inverted U. In other words, when we experience too little or too much arousal or stress, performance is impacted, negatively.
The bottom left hand side of the U represents the situation where people are under-challenged. Here it is hard to get motivated to do anything. You will have experienced this, you just can’t get round to writing that report, making the phone call or tidying the office.
At the midpoint we are in Flow.
This is the work of Csikzentmihalyi who has studied the experience for many years. He has created a formula for teaching people to enter the Flow state. Simply put it is about getting a balance between the level of perceived challenge in a task and your perceived abilities to carry it out. If challenge is too low, you coast. If it is too high, you go into panic. Once arousal passes the mid-point there is over-arousal or what we typically mean when we say we are stressed.
This begins to also impact performance. Here you are likely to react emotionally, be forgetful and to be poor at making connections. You may suffer from poor sleep.
So on the negative,the BAD (too much arousal) stress has been implicated in various health issues, particularly chronic stress that continues over long periods of time. It can lower immune system functioning making us more susceptible to illness, lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, cause everyday aches and pains, weight gain, sleep loss, lowering of sex drive and skin conditions like hives or eczema. Put simply and rather harshly (for a reason) – “it is very possible that if you have a life filled with that constant stress, little by little the body is breaking down.”
The harmful effects of stress on health are not inevitable. The key is to reduce your stress but only to the point of Flow.
To conclude: How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience. The key is balance.
The implications: On a personal note ….think about your beliefs about stress? From an organisational perspective … think about how you are you talking about stress and responding to it – are you helping people revise their perceptions?!
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