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How stressed are we really?

In 1998, 30, 000 adults from the USA were asked how much stress they had experienced in the last year. They were also asked whether they thought stress was harmful to their health.Eight years later, the researchers scoured public records to find out who had died. They discovered that high levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43%!

But the interesting point is that the increased risk only applied to those who believed that stress was harming their lives. Those that did not believe stress was harming their health, had a lower rate of death than those who were experiencing small amounts of stress.

So, it wasn’t stress alone that was killing people, it was stress and the belief that stress was harmful that was the cause. That makes it the 15th biggest cause of death in the USA, which is more than skin cancer and homicide.

Not only does it increase death rates it also costs organisations in lost productivity; in the United States, it costs 30 times less if an employee is thriving in their role, relative to an employee suffering in their role. When people think about stress or burnout, they may see it as an individual weakness, or lack of strength of character; and that people should ‘cope better’, ‘be tougher’ or ‘stop being a hypochondriac’. Of course, none of these things are true if someone is burning out, and it isn’t just an issue confined to individuals as we see above; when it applies to most people it becomes a pressing issue for organisations too.

Why are we getting burnt-out?

The research points to many factors and the reality is that stress is a multi-faceted condition. We are working longer hours than ever before, we live in a digital world where we are always connected, we are sleeping less than in the last century, we are becoming more disconnected from others (Facebook doesn’t count by the way!), leaner teams mean higher workload, continual restructures, constant change, project after project; it never stops! The modern world whilst making life convenient for us in so many ways is demanding more from us than ever before

So what?

Most CEOs would pick the following factors as crucial to their organisations sustainability: strong profits, optimal productivity, superior client service, an engaged and motivated workforce, retention of top performers, increased staff accountability and reduced absenteeism. Most employees are seeking improved quality of life and meaningful work. Lack of resilience and the ill-health that comes with that jeopardises ALL of those needs outlined above, irrespective of whether it emanates from a business or a staff member’s perspective.

Is There Any Good News?

Funnily enough, within this cloudy picture, there lies a glimmer of hope. Firstly, that hope lies in the fact that by nature we are incredibly resilient; we bounce back from difficulties in our lives, we adapt when things change at work, we cope with technology and all that it brings. Secondly, we can also learn to be more resilient. In fact, we are more likely to experience Post Traumatic Growth than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following a deeply traumatic event in our lives. So, that old saying, ‘that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, has some basis of truth in it. Finally, hope exists because within this relentlessly demanding modern landscape we inhabit there are people who thrive on the demands and pressure they experience. They don’t feel stress in a negative way, they don’t appear overloaded, in fact, they seek out extra challenges and new experiences. So, what are they doing differently?

A Path to Greater Resilience?

We see resilience as a way to thrive in whatever opportunities or challenges come your way. It will make you change-fit and able to flourish Those who master difficult circumstances are likely to proactively attend to four main areas of their existence;

  • Physical – they exercise regularly, rest and sleep well, eat healthily, and know what they are passionate about and play into them;
  • Mental – they are curious, they seek out new experiences and reflect on them, and they build empowering thoughts;
  • Socio-Emotional – they take responsibility for their roles in relationships, build healthy self-esteem, nurture close relationships, whilst pruning negative relationships;
  • Spiritual Direction – they clarify their purpose in life, practice gratefulness and pay it forward to those in need.

We believe that by growing these 4 reservoir pools you will make your life fuller, healthier and longer too.

We also believe that people who attend to all 4 of these areas disproportionately thrive; just focusing on one won’t harm you but it isn’t the full answer. The four elements are symbiotic and synergistic, and deeply personal to each one of us so that we all can find ways to thrive in our own way.

Things You Can Do Now to Build Resilience

Here are several quick things that you can do to start on the path to a more resilient lifestyle:

  • Reflect on how you view stress and whether you perceive it having a negative or positive impact on you – remember that the aim is to find your optimal level of stress where you view it positively;
  • Identify what your purpose in life is – you can thrive in almost situation if you have a big enough reason and drive;
  • Nurture integrated living – if you make regular, small deposits in all four quadrants of your life (physical, mental, spiritual and socio-emotional) you will build larger reservoirs from which can draw when feeling stressed.

We work with a lot of organisations and we can see that their employees are struggling to cope with the elements of modern business life we all know about. Businesses have some responsibility to not unnecessarily add to their stressors, and we advise many of them how to do that. As an individual though you have a part to play; recognising that the aim isn’t to remove stress altogether, but to get better at mastering stress so you can thrive in our highly competitive, demanding world. Remember, you don’t stress about things you don’t care about, and you cannot create a meaningful life without caring about something, so stress comes as part of that package.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Nelson Mandela