There are many definitions of stress and it’s used in different ways to apply to different things. These are just some examples I found…
“Pressure or tension exerted on a material object.”
“A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”
“a force that acts in a way that often changes the shape of an object.”
“to give emphasis or special importance to something.”
We all recognise when we ‘feel stressed’. It comes with different feelings and sensations, sometimes we feel sped up like our mind is full but we have to keep going. Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed like we just have too much to do and don’t know where to start and the emails and phone calls keep coming! Sometime we may feel worried that something is going to go wrong with what we are doing, or we lose sleep worrying that we may have missed something.
Whatever it looks like for you, all these thoughts come with strong feelings that we may feel physically. Like frustration or resentment at what we see is causing us to feel stressed. Or being totally exhausted, or being snappy or anxious.
We often perceive stress as something that happens to us because of external circumstances which are out of our control.
“a force that acts in a way that often changes the shape of an object”
When we feel stressed it causes a change in us – much like the ‘changes in the shape of an object’ we feel, react and behave differently.
We often feel the effects of stress but see them as a sign that there is something to get serious, angry, concerned, worried etc about and so feel compelled to take these feelings more and more seriously unwittingly fuelling them and giving them “emphasis or importance”.
The problem with the definition above is that it suggests that we can’t regain our mental shape until the force diminishes. In many of our work environments, however, the force is pretty consistent – more to do than we have time for, constant emails, more people that need our services, decreasing funding.
What if our experience of stress wasn’t directly caused by our situation but was actually helpful information about how we are thinking about our situation, and a reminder that “hang on I’m taking something very seriously here, perhaps I’m missing something”.
What if the mind was supplied with a built in design to regain its shape and perspective even when our circumstances remain challenging, when we remember the only place those feelings can actually be coming from?
Counter intuitive right?!?
The clue to this at least being a possibility is that for most of us even when we’re stressed the intensity ebbs and flows from hour to hour, from day to day even without the pressures we face changing. In fact we can have periods where we are engrossed in doing something, whether it be for work or pleasure when for that time we aren’t having a stressed experience, we are just totally engaged in what we’re doing. Then we often just pick up where we left off and return to being stressed.
Until a few years back I would have agreed it couldn’t possibly work any other way than the definitions above. But more and more I now see that whilst I still regularly get bent out of shape by my stressful feelings, because I know 100% that it can’t be anything other than an inside job, a creation of my own mind in that moment, I much more quickly and reliably regain my bearings, perspective and common sense.
It is one of the paradox’s of working life that when we are most ‘stressed’ we feel least able to look after and help ourselves, and yet this is our mind’s way of telling us we may well be going off track and could do with pausing to better make sense of our experience.
So if you are at all curious to see if it is possible to have a different experience of work pressures, and even if you are super busy which I know you all are, I’d really encourage you to consider coming to the “Stress Less and Be Your Best” course on Wednesday 11 September 9.30am-4.30pm with a follow up lunchtime Thursday 19 September 12-2pm which will be run by me and my husband Matt Halfin from Unstoppable!
During the course we will explore further what I’ve pointed to in this article and much more. Further details of the course can be found by Terrence Higgins Trust employees on the ‘P’ drive under ‘Learning and Development’.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch.