Where is your stress coming from and what is the impact on you? A piece on systematic stress management

Stress is a really interesting topic to me as I consider the hugely challenging circumstances currently being experienced all over the world during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The aim of this blogpost isn’t to give you 10 top tips to short-term stress relief. As it’s mental health awareness week, you will find this kind of material in every other post you scroll through. Rather, the point of this post is to give you a deeper physiological understanding of stress, and to point you in the right direction in implementing long-term changes so that you are in a better position to manage stress for the long haul. I’m coming at this as someone who treats bodily stress through massage therapy, and as a life, career and wellbeing coach whose clients are coping with various stressors (more about what this is later). I would also really like to thank Jaromir Myslivecek from the Institute of Physiology of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic for his research into this topic. His article The Basis of the Stress Reaction has provided the main scientific foundation for this blogpost.

 

What is stress, from a physiological point of view?

Understanding what stress is helps us to navigate it, deal with it, give it its right place in our lives. So what is stress? There are many definitions for stress, as Myslivecek alludes to. In his view, ‘stress is the body’s response to strain (inner or outer). This response is characterised by stress response elements that could have both positive/beneficial impact (eustress) or a negative/detrimental impact (distress) on the body’. I will pick up on this more because human beings (as with all living creatures) have been designed to cope with stress. Myslivecek describes stress as ‘the body’s response to strain (inner or outer). It is not a nervous tension, as it can occur in lower animals and even in plants, which have no nervous system. Stress is not a reaction to a specific thing. It should be considered a reaction that helps the organism cope with different situations and, therefore, stress cannot and should not be avoided.’

Let’s look briefly into human histology – bone ossification (growth) in particular, since it will explore Myslivecek’s point more. Our bones grow under enormous stress. Is it necessary? Yes, it is – as the pressure is part of the process of the strengthening of bone tissue. Our bones never stop growing since bone cells in the body continue to reproduce to replace those that die. Broken bones knit together and heal by growth. As we get older, our bones are still renewing, but the rate of deterioration of cells in the bone may be faster than the renewal process. This kind of stress is eustress.

So… our bodies were designed and built to handle eustress. From the moment we were conceived, our bodies have remained in some form of eustress – the stress of growing. They will continue to handle growth stresses until the moment we take our last breath. Where we are physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically distressed for prolonged periods of time – well, this is something that our bodies are not naturally designed or built for.

We can think about it this way: Eustress leads to positive outcomes and impacts, in so far as the end goal is not a negative one, or does not transform into a distress. Distress leads to negative outcomes and impacts. In BOTH of these, we will find: STRESS. This is enough overview with which to begin from. I welcome medical experts to comment or even correct me if needed.

 

Is it manageable?

Stress is an overused word these days, and I believe that is partly because of a genuine lack of understanding of the two different types of stresses, and how we ought to relate to them. Stress can also increase or decrease to different degrees as well. It’s very easy to believe that our stress is one thing, but it is actually another. There is quite a lot of chaos and confusion if the stress is distressful or if the stress is chronic (no longer manageable). Only eustress will recollect you, bring you some peace, order and direction in the context of stress itself. Stress is manageable, and even when you think you’ve lost all control, not all hope is lost.

To navigate through the stress, to put together your action plan for managing it, and to see the light at the end of the tunnel,  two of the most important things to look at are the cause of the stresses, and the impact the stress is having on you.

 

How can the cause (aka the stressor) be identified?

‘Stressors can influence the organism acutely (acute/single stress) or chronically (chronic/repeated/long-lasting stress)’ says Myslivecek. ‘The repeated influence of a stressor can have great significance in the context of allostasis, which is defined as the ability to maintain stability through change’. As a change management practitioner, you can imagine my delight in the science of this statement… but that’s a topic for another day!

400x400 8 Wellbeing KeysTo determine the cause of the stress (the stressor / the stimulus / the trigger), I run a wellbeing self-assessment with my clients. This report is an analysis of the eight wellbeing keys to the right. I help my clients come to crystal clarity on what their stressors are, so that the root can either be nourished or dug up. Nourished when the stressor leads to eustress. Dug up (I’m sorry, this is usually quite a painful process) when the stressor leads to distress. Although Myslivecek says that ‘in humans, the majority of stressors are psychological and social’, the other areas of wellbeing could be greatly impacted. So I offer this assessment as part of a wellbeing coaching package, OR people are welcome to simply complete a questionnaire then purchase their unique report from me for only £19.95 to see their results.

You can take your wellbeing self-assessment here: http://bit.ly/ToC-WSA.

You could also complete this explorative task on your own and without any aid. All you need to do is look at each wellbeing key, and write down what is discomforting, not quite at right balance, stress-invoking or is unsatisfactory to you in your life.

Here’s an example exploring the social key: a) Tension in the relationship between my boss and myself. b) My kids are complaining that I am not spending enough time with them. c) At the moment I feel like I have so few friends. d) Business networking gives me the sweats. Which ones are distressful? Which ones are a form of eustress? Which ones are acute and which ones are chronic? What degree of importance on a scale of 1-10 do you give them (1 being low and 10 being high)?

Then repeat this process for the other 7 wellbeing keys, and see what comes up for you.

 

How can the impact of that stress be measured? Indeed, what is the impact of all that stress?

Taking the wellbeing self-assessment is only part one of this stress-identification journey. The second part of the journey is nailing down the exact impact the stress is having on you. For example, you may be distressed by your next door neighbour who is repeatedly playing their music on full blast until 5am keeping you awake. Not only is the outcome of physical tiredness going to have an impact on you, but you could also be greatly impacted by short-temperedness in your family relationships, or an unkept living environment, or poor performance in your workplace. To help clients determine this, I give my clients a Stress Impact Assessment (again, based on the above wellbeing keys) to complete.

A comprehensive Stress Impact Assessment is a part of my wellbeing coaching package, OR people are welcome to attend one of my Radical Self-Care Workshops to go through a mini version (4 wellbeing keys) of this Stress Impact Assessment. You’ll find all my upcoming workshops on Radical Self-Care on my Eventbrite channel.

If you wanted to assess the impacts of your stress without my aid, you could draw a 3 columned table. The first column contains your stressor. The second column contains at least 1 (but likely to be multiple) outcomes of the stressor. The third column contains the impact. This is a very important piece of work, because this will actually help you determine which stresses need addressing.

Once you understand your stressors and the impacts of that stress, you can really begin to map out a plan for stress management. Otherwise, you’re just trialling and erring without really understanding your fight-fright-flight capacities. You could be throwing away a lot of money for something that you stumble onto by accident. Approaching your stress management systematically will help combat the chaos that comes with negative stress.

 

Why work with a Wellbeing Coach

Wellbeing coaches who have a good overall knowledge of the body (I would recommend level 3 qualifications in bodywork as a minimum since they show some level of competency in the hormonal and nervous systems). They will also have a greater understanding of healthy eating, psychology, in fact –  a good holistic understanding of all 8 wellbeing keys altogether. Such a coach would be in a good position to support you in managing your stress. They can also help you in your stress prevention strategy. They:

  • Take into account your physical wellbeing, through understanding and analysis of symptoms showing up as outcomes resulting from chronic stress or distress.
  • Will help you look at your life as a whole, as no one area of your life can be isolated unto itself.
  • Work with you to implement stress management strategy – forming action plans to prevention systems.
  • Look at your dietary intake, and can recommend dietary plans (but not subscribe vitamins or supplements unless they are a registered nutritionist).
  • Go through, in overview style, your financial as well as your environmental and occupational situations.
  • Recommend physical exercises and signpost you to helpful resources.
  • Think outside the box to help you with your career progression and development, without losing or selling your soul!

 

Of course, there is so much more that could be said about this topic, even from a physiological perspective – but I hope I have achieved what I set out to according to the second paragraph. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the above material, or would like to embark on a bespoke 3 month wellbeing coaching programme with me. I offer a free 30 minute consultation call.

 


I’m preparing to open up a 1 year Career & Wellbeing programme to 6 keen hi-potential job hunters or career chasers to escalate their performance as individuals, and to work as a team to achieve their unique life & career visions. Do you want to be someone who receives unlimited access and support from me, who will be championing you throughout your journey of growth and self-actualisation?

 

Wellbeing tips for employees working in desk-based office jobs – Pt I

Today, I was at the Hounslow Chamber of Commerce’s Health & Wellbeing event, which was great. I left feeling really inspired by the speakers and the products/services on offer; but most of all it occurred to me that I’ve got so many tips to share about employee wellbeing in an office environment.

 

TOC - 8 Wellbeing Keys - White BackgroundAs a holistic massage therapist, healthy eating & wellbeing adviser, and a professional accredited life coach, I’ll unleash a multitude of tips to improve your wellbeing if you sit at a desk 5 days a week to keep a roof over your head and food on your table. My philosophy on wellbeing is very much centred on the 8 principles, or ‘keys’, featured in this picture: spiritual, social, emotional, intellectual/psychological, occupational, financial, environmental & physical. These make the sense of wellbeing holistic. But what is wellbeing?

 

I’ll be very honest and say that not much of what I’d learned in secondary school stuck. However, since I had the funniest Geography teacher, I happened to retain his teaching more than other subjects. I remember he taught us the difference between quality of life and standard of living. The definition of ‘quality of life’, which is complex when attempting to measure it in a scientific context, circumscribes a measure of the good-ness of multiple aspects of one’s life like (but not limited to) social, emotional, psychological state. Standard of living looks at the economic (financial) circumstances that may influence those aspects. The definition of ‘Wellbeing’ is very similar to that of ‘quality of life’ and could be considered as interchangeable in this day. When someone makes a personal assessment of their own life or of particular aspects of their life using measures of satisfaction, happiness, or other self-assessment scales, then solutions following the assessment are more often classed as ‘wellbeing’ than ‘quality of life’. So whilst wellbeing is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.”, I would argue that wellbeing is simply, “the state of one’s being”, which can be self-measured using the 8 wellbeing keys/principles above.

Your wellbeing is part of you, and you bring that everywhere you go… including your workplace. So, here’s some tips to help improve your wellbeing in the office environment!!

 

SPIRITUAL

Spiritual wellbeing is the ability to experience and integrate meaning and purpose in life through a person’s connectedness with self, with God or other higher power, others, elements of creation or creativity.

Prayer / Meditation

Sadly, our workplaces are more often not very supportive of talking about ‘spirit’ or ‘spirituality’. I’m a big believer in prayer. By law, employees in the UK are entitled to work breaks, and I encourage you to read your contract if you don’t know your entitlement. There is no reason why part of that break can’t be allocated personally to prayer or meditation. Meditation, coming from the Latin meditatus means ““to think or reflect upon, consider, design, purpose, intend”.

Affirmation cards

Affirmation cards are a great thing to have in your drawer. You don’t even have to buy them… you can make them yourself! Picking up a card that says “I believe in me” or “I am grateful for…” or “You are enough” or “I won’t let fear hold me back today” when you’re going through a tough moment may uplift your spirits. As well as having them in your drawer, you can opt to make yourself a little vulnerable by handing some to the colleagues in your team so that when they notice that you are someone else is feeling downhearted, they can give you (or the other person) a card of their choice.

Retreat

Schedule a retreat into your diary at least once a year for at least 4 days. Make sure it has a spiritual element to it. I personally love the effects of 7 day silent retreats!

 

SOCIAL

If you’ve ever heard of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, the 3rd and 4th segments, which span psychological & self-fulfillment needs cover social wellbeing, which is the extent you feel a sense of belonging and social inclusion. A connected person is a supported person in the workplace. Lifestyles, ways of working together, value systems, traditions and beliefs are all important to our social well being and quality of life. We want to know that we are accepted for who we are within our daily workplace relationships.

Team volunteering at a local charity or community

Often, employers believe that it is essential for team-building to spend lots of money on the next team-building fad. I would like to let you know that whilst they may be fun, the context is usually lacking in authenticity and reality. If you want your team to bond, do it over something real, where other people can benefit from that time. There is no better way to bond than over voluntary work at your local charity or community. It may be a foodbank, it may be a tiny charity that need their garden cleared out (or a new one planted and maintained), it may be clearing rubbish or even establishing and promoting an environment-friendly campaign.

Opportunities to chat

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this… endless emails between co-workers who work just a few desks away through to a floor or two up! Would it be such a bad idea if the team ate one lunch-a-month together at a local cafe? After-work drinks are also an idea… but when I mean ‘after work’, I mean: if your normal working day finishes at 5pm, then stop working at 3:30, head to the pub, and pay them until 5pm.

 Employee Assistance Programmes

Whilst I do believe that all employees would benefit from an employee assistance programme, the public and third sector organisations would most benefit from such a programme. The fact that these programmes offer trained counsellors and legal experts on the other end of the phone means that an employee doesn’t have to go through personal or work-related problems alone. Having an employee assistance programme ensures that employees will always have someone independent to talk to confidentially.

 

EMOTIONAL

Not only does our working lives contribute a great deal to our emotional wellbeing, but that’s also the truth the other way round. Our emotional wellbeing contribute a great deal to our working lives – from how we handle pressure (resilience), to how well we perform. When we are not emotionally well, we may lack a sense of purpose and achievement. This then has a knock-on effect on self-esteem and confidence. A negative loop could then result from this. Although related to emotional wellbeing, stress will be covered under psychological/intellectual tips.

Praise & motivation

Anyone who has been through solid management training will know that praise and motivation is essential for the emotional wellbeing of their team. If you are a manager, please find creative ways of giving due recognition to your team and use the myriad of sites available on the internet to build creative motivation into your daily weekly work plan.

Bring the ocean to you

Very few people in the world would say that when they went to the beach, they had such a bad experience that just the thought of the sea provokes negative feelings and/or emotions. It may be too many miles away, but today’s technology can bring the sea to you! Stick your headphones on, open up youTube (if you can), type in ‘ocean sounds’, and pick from hundreds of videos of the ocean, listening to it whilst you close your eyes and imagine you are at the beach. LoungeV Films have a huge range of different nature sounds that you are bound to like one of! Our sense of hearing is extremely powerful… so give your ears a treat.

Find peace… through your nose

I absolutely love the private collection of home fragrances by the ethical Rituals company. I was in their flagship Covent Garden store the other day when a delightful young French sales assistant told me about their wonderful philosophy, which I absolutely connected with. Although it’s a home fragrance, as long as it doesn’t irritate neighbouring co-workers, you could spray one or two shots over your seat/desk. Choose a fragrance that you feel makes you feel positive and peaceful. It’ll be like bringing the spa to your workplace!


So here are the first set of tips for improved wellbeing for employees in a workplace, if the employees sit at a desk for the majority of their work day. There’s loads more tips to come!

10 reasons why ‘failure’ is actually good FOR us

10 reasons why ‘failure’ is actually GOOD for us.

 

10. Failure builds up our resilience. Resilience is widely recognised as an essential life skill. One that enables us to fulfil our potentials, despite setbacks, difficult circumstances and adversity.

9. Failure gives us an opportunity to reflect and reassess ourselves. Whether that’s about skillset, character, motives, mindset, heartset, or current circumstances. An action plan is then likely to come out of this reflection! A life coach can help you with this.

8. Failure invites us to creative challenge. Rarely is failing an excuse to move or change the goals set for ourselves. This means reassessing the journey toward the goal. We might have to be more creative about it, and think out of the box as to how we’ll reach that goal. Either way, it’s a great opportunity for inspiration to take root and innovation to make an appearance.

7. Failure teaches us about what works and what doesn’t! This valuable knowledge is transferrable into all arenas of our lives. We must use this experiential knowledge wisely.

6. Failure exposes us to the depths of human brokenness – not just our own, but others’ as well. If someone is delighting in our failure, there is a reason for it. What is this reason?

5. Failure calls others to empathy and compassion… for US. Yes, my friend. We are loved… and sometimes, that love is best expressed through someone’s compassion and kindness toward us. Believe it or not, that compassion may just benefit you far more than it benefits the giver. Welcome to the economy of kindness!

4. Failure reminds us to remain humble. Where others would argue that failure helps us develop skills and character, we ought to remember that failure helps us to grow in virtue too. Virtues are keys to our spiritual potential – especially if one is Christian. If ever there was a rocket propellant to maturity, it’s failure!

3. Failure turns us into natural problem-solvers. Thomas Edison famously failed nearly 10,000 times on creating a commercially viable electric lightbulb. He attempted to solve the problem that caused each failure, remembering them all. It took nearly 10,000 problem-solving attempts to reach his success.

2. Failure brings us extraordinary life experiences, borne out of pain. Think about that one for a moment.

1. Failure only exists because the goal to reach has not been abandoned. Every failure strengthens our resolve to reach the goal, the target, and empty ourselves in authentic love. This is the most noble and greatest definition of success – to give everything of ourselves. During the Stations of the Cross I am always struck so deeply on the third, seventh and ninth Stations, when Jesus falls. For Our Lord, the goal of this particular journey was the Cross. Not the Resurrection. For each time He fell, LOVE lifted Him up to continue to the end. He gave it His all. He gave US His all. Love is worth falling for.

 

There is a distinct difference between something (or someone) being good to us, and being good for us. Certainly, it won’t feel that occasions of failure are good to us, but certainly, good comes out of all these the things, that they are ultimately good for us. Although we do benefit, it is still important to keep our eyes fixed on the ultimate goal.