On any given day, in any office around the country, you’ll hear staff complain about how stressed they are. It’s a phrase that trips off the tongue and has become a catch all term for all manner of frustrations at work and beyond. But what do people really mean when they utter these fateful words?
A medical dictionary definition of stress says that it is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilise.
The key phrase here is when a person perceives that demand is excessive beyond resources. This is important because no matter how fleeting this perception may be, the number of times one person or a number of people in a team say they’re stressed, the more likely this will be to dictate the tone of that office.
It’s worth remembering that the stress response is a natural one - a physiological reaction designed to protect us, most commonly referred to as fight or flight. And while a degree of stress or pressure can lead us to stretch ourselves, grow and achieve results that may surprise even ourselves, in many working environments people tend to over-ride the stress response repeatedly which leads to a disruption of the physical and mental status quo.
The consequences of this are all too familiar and can include exhaustion, frequent headaches, discomfort in the neck and shoulders, apathy, depression, insomnia, self-medication often in the form of alcohol, or increased absenteeism.
On a more positive note, just as everyone is familiar with what it feels like to be stressed, most employees also know what it’s like to have a great day in the office.
A day when energy is flowing, focus is clear, much is being achieved and everything feels positive – the territory that sports people refer to as being in the zone. Unfortunately people are far less likely to acknowledge these moments consciously to themselves or share these positive experiences by broadcasting them openly in the same way as they do when feeling under pressure.
So what makes the difference between being in the zone and feeling as though you’re at breaking point?
Sure, a lot of it is influenced by external factors – often in the form of other people – but in all circumstances, busy or calm, there can be inconsistencies in individuals’ ability to cope, think rationally and get things done.
In other words, the perception of the resources available can swing quite dramatically depending on the mood of the moment.
So it’s important that employees do what they can to take charge of their ‘mood of the moment’ and this means businesses fostering a new emphasis on people taking responsibility for the stress they are, or say they are, experiencing.
Here’s what staff need to know to keep stress levels at bay and inhabit their ‘zone’ of peak performance consistently.
1. Eat regularly, eat well Paying attention to what you eat and when you eat it can be the difference between a calm day feeling challenging, or a challenging day feeling effortless.
Supply your body with too many stimulants – sweet snacks, processed food or high sugar meals – or skip too many meals or snacks, and your ability to perform will be massively reduced. Establish a routine of healthy eating through the day and you’ll be able to cope with anything that’s thrown at you.
Encourage staff to start the day right by eating breakfast, plan meals and snacks in advance, stay hydrated and eat something healthy every three hours. You can make the job of wading through the mass of nutrition information available easier by setting up a company healthy eating plan that provides specific solutions for your audience, their challenges and the environments in which they operate.
2. Get active Because the stress response is designed to help us fight or flee, the simplest way to manage it, stabilise hormone levels and remain calm is with physical activity.
Encourage staff to get up and move around regularly. Meetings on the go are a great idea and for lasting impact you can organise walking clubs, running clubs or regular fitness sessions. For a fun element, a pedometer challenge with monthly champions always gets people moving.
Give staff access to resources that will help them find an exercise routine that works for each individual. When it comes to effective exercise there are two key areas to consider.