Welcome to the second article in the series ‘Are You Spending Your Health on Wealth?’ where I’m exploring workplace stress, how stress affects our health, and what we can do about it. Read the first article here.
Last week I provided introductory information on workplace stress and its effects on those who experience it. I also shared a bit of my ‘Stress for a Paycheck’ story. The brief takeaway is that stress affects us emotionally and physically damaging not only our health, bodies, and minds, but perhaps also our relationships, finances, and even our souls. Finding relief is essential.
I believe it takes a multi-faceted approach to achieve this relief. Learning to be well in each of the various elements of our lives is required to find an equilibrium we can flourish on. While the start of this series is focusing on learning to manage or overcome workplace stress, I hope you appreciate that it takes more than that to be well.
If you are not eating well or obtaining physical exercise, nor controlling your finances, engaging socially, positively expressing your emotions, or stimulating your intellect you may still feel excessive pressure, a lack of control or even floundering feelings.
My goal is to help you make progress in all the different areas of well-being so that you stop the cycle of destruction on your health, relationships, and life.
Stress Affects Our Bodies
We’ve been mostly programmed to think of stress as a bad thing. A threat or demand on us that we must prepare to control or fight off. With a perceived danger our bodies go into the fight-or-flight response releasing hormones to prepare us for action.
Our muscles tense, our heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, the pace of our breath quickens, and our senses heighten. These physical changes prepare us to rise to the occasion and defend ourselves or quickly flee to elude potential pain or injury.
The problem though is that our bodies do a terrible job of distinguishing a real threat from perceived threat. If you’ve ever been anxious over a pending job interview, performance appraisal, or watched a horror movie, you probably know what I mean. And the more our bodies sense threats, real or imagined, and go into the stress response loop, the more easily that loop is activated and the harder it is to turn off.
When we don’t use those fight-or-flight reactions to fend off or flee danger, it’s important to relax our bodies, so they do not stay in a heightened state. Experience lots of stress or repeated stress often in a short period, and the resulting fight-or-flight loop leads to what’s known as chronic stress.
Stress Affects Our Health
This continuous chronic stress pattern then leaves our bodies almost always in a heightened state. Which ultimately then causes health problems, often dangerous ones.
All systems in your body are susceptible to this chronic stress too. That weight you put on, that breakout on your back, your depressed mood and pessimistic thinking, the pain in your stomach, or memory issues even, may all be a result of chronic stress.
What if We Could Change How Stress Affects Our Body?
According to Dr. Kelly McConigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, we can learn to make friends with stress. Achieving positive results and benefits from it instead of all the bad and evil.
In her famous TedTalk (linked below) she claims, “how you think about your stress matters.” When we change our minds about stress, we can change our bodies about stress.
Dr. McConigal dove into research and found that people who believe the stress response is helpful to their performance, experienced different stress effects on the body than those that viewed it as bad.
Stress Affects Your Body Differently When You View it Differently
Just a slight mindset shift to looking at a pounding heart as the body’s way of assisting you for quick action. Or considering a quickening pace of breath as getting more oxygen to the brain to help you think changes the physiological reactions in the body.
A Harvard study is referenced by Dr. McConigal in which participants who thought positively about stress did not experience typical constriction of blood vessels during a stress event. Instead, their blood vessels stayed normal, typical of what is seen when we experience courage and joy.
Dr. McConigal wants you to realize the next time your heart is pounding from stress, “that it is your body helping you rise to this challenge.” Because “when you view stress in that way, your body believes you, and your stress response becomes healthier.” If we can perceive stress as beneficial, as an asset for our performance toolbox, we can use it to enhance our behavior.
Getting From Stressed Out to Controlled Courage
Workplace stress won’t go away completely, but we can learn relaxation techniques to get through it. Or follow the tips below to relieve it. But how about going to the root-cause of it, changing how we think of it, and learning to embrace it for positive change instead?
Research continues to discover that when we perceive a stressful situation as a chance to improve our skills, knowledge or strengths, we can experience stress-related growth.
“People who are good at stress allow themselves to be changed by the experience of stress. Embracing our natural capacity for growth can help us change in positive ways, even in circumstances we would never choose.” – Dr. Kelly McGonigal
In my article on Mindful Engagement, I introduced the 12 elements identified by The Gallup Organization required for an employee to feel engaged at work. When any of these elements are missing an employee encounters stressful feelings. When a significant number are missing the employee feels greater stress and eventually disengages if the elements are not addressed. Left unresolved the stress affects not only one’s job but also spills into other areas of the employee’s life and may damage their health, relationships, finances, and more.
Elements Identified as Required for Employee Engagement, by The Gallup Organization
- I know what is expected of me at work
- I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right
- At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
- In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
- My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
- There is someone at work who encourages my development
- At work, my opinions seem to count
- The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important
- My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work
- I have a best friend at work
- In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
- This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow
Many who are overstressed at work, yet handcuffed to it, feel there are few ways out. They dream of a new job, a new boss, starting their own business, or financial independence so they no longer need to work. Unfortunately, not many act on any of those dreams. Instead, they stay suffering, and their health deteriorates. Spending their health on wealth.
If this is you just STOP. No more being a victim. No more being stuck. No more dying inside. Take charge of your stress, take charge of your health, and take control of your life.
Should you be one of the few that has a plan to execute on their dream awesome! But what are you doing in the meantime to deal with your workplace stress? You too should take charge of your stress, health, and life today, and use stress to your full advantage.
Embrace the Elements
If you are missing any of the 12 Gallup elements, make a plan to change that. View any holes in your list as opportunities to empower yourself to improve or gain new knowledge or skills. Dig in deep. Why do you not know what is expected of you? How can you be heard so that your opinions count?
Note: If you are missing #8 or #9 because they go against your personal core values you may not be able to fix that. In which case you probably need to make a plan to change jobs, the sooner, the better. I’ll touch more on this next week.
Think big here. This may take swallowing your pride a bit and asking for help from a mentor or co-worker that you respect. Perhaps even an old boss or former coworker that knows you well. (Got no one, or need more help reach out to me).
Brainstorm ideas to implement change. Could you take a class in public speaking? Do you need to ask more questions or listen better?Are you approachable? Can you requisition the right tools?
Experiencing workplace stress unrelated to the 12 elements? You may still utilize the same approach. Identify why you feel stress when you do. Is it due to a lack of knowledge or skill you can gain? Do you need to work on a relationship with a member of management or another team? Would a change in work schedule help? List out ideas to create change and achieve what you need.
Create goals from your brainstorming. Make them positive, inspiring and meaningful. Set yourself up for goal success and take action.
Things won’t change on their own. Well, you may get lucky on occasion, but positive lasting change begins with you. Identify what elements are missing from your work life, create a plan to obtain them, and act on it.
Be good at stress, one deep breath at a time.
In the 3rd post, we dive deeper and learn how feelings of powerlessness affect us, and offer additional ideas for managing, altering or deleting workplace stress to avoid spending your health on wealth. Be sure and subscribe, so you don’t miss a post!
Questions? Thoughts? Have you tried to view stress as positive or used it to motivate you? Please share in the comments below what you’ve tried that has or hasn’t worked for you to manage workplace stress?