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Can Stress Ever Be A Good Thing In Business?

Today’s world shows no sign of slowing down and the pace of life can sometimes become overwhelming. Uncertainties lie around every corner, from large-scale anxieties around international politics, Brexit, climate change etc. to more personal worries, such as problems at work, family relationships and money concerns. We live and work in a complicated world with constant flux that leaves many of us stressed and anxious about where we fit in.

Stress is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in the workplace as we try to come to terms with the complexities and rapid pace of business life. According to statistics published by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Labour Force Survey, around 595,000 workers were suffering from stress, depression or anxiety in Great Britain in 2017/18, while businesses saw a staggering 15.4 million working days lost due to employees taking time off due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety over the same period.[1] Causes of stress reported included workload pressure, tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

Given, then, that workplace stress causes so much disruption and distress for employees, manager and businesses alike, learning how to tackle it has increasingly become one of the most important things that a business can do to safeguard the health of its people and to protect its own operational future and financial viability.

The good news is that the synchronised ‘three brains’ approach that mBraining offers is the ideal remedy for stress in the workplace, The focus on not just one brain in the body but three allows those who practise the techniques to really get to know themselves, identify their personal trigger points for stress and understand their physical and emotional symptoms better than ever before. They say that knowledge is power, and in this case, understanding how mBraining can help you recognise the signs of stress and learn how to reduce or remove their impact on you can really clear the way towards becoming a more insightful, successful and happier manager.

Body Talk

Anyone who has ever experienced stress or pressure (so, pretty much everyone, then…) will know that it’s not just all in the mind. Our bodies exhibit physical symptoms too. In true mBraining fashion, each of our three brains are linked to aspects of stress, with the heart responsible for our feelings of overwhelming emotions, such as guilt, low self-esteem and moodiness, while our gut contributes the ‘fight of flight’ sensations of agitation, fear, panic and self-preservation. Add to that our head brain’s need to try to make sense of a situation when it can be almost impossible to do so and it becomes clear why the body is thrown into such a disorienting state.

Other physical symptoms of stress include restlessness or lethargy, insomnia, shaking, sweating, muscle tension, dry mouth, nausea and ringing in the ears, Interestingly, stress also manifests itself in aches and pains, including in the head, chest and stomach – the rough physical locations of our head, heart and gut brains. Cognitively, we can also add panic, indecisiveness, racing thoughts, lack of focus and pessimism.

Our behaviour can change, too, as we fight to combat the stress, from taking up drinking and/or returning to smoking to procrastinating, biting our nails or even self-harm. In other words, stress affects the entirety of ourselves and can lead to extremely serious consequences if left unchecked.[1]

The Vagus Nerve

Many scientists have spent time studying the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to the gut. Findings have included clear evidence that the gut is responsible for sending the brain signals related to sadness, stress and other physical states of being. The vagus nerve relies on more than 30 neurotransmitters, identical to those found in the brain, to send a constant stream of sensory information about the body, including whenever you are showing signs of stress.[1] The brain receives and acts on these signals, often overriding a more logical approach to a task, which, in turn, seriously influences and impedes key business tasks, such as decision making, memory and learning.

Signals can also be sent the other way, from the brain to the gut. If you are able to actively calm yourself down during a pressurised period and force your more logical head brain to counteract and overcome the physical and mental symptoms of stress, this can send messages back through your body that help relax the gut and thus prevent it from releasing negative signals back through the vagus nerve. This leaves your head and heart brains freer to think through a more positive, constructive reaction to the troubling issue or environment in question. The resulting ‘clear head’ can often make all the difference between resolving a stressful situation, rather than caving in to the pressure.

Negative Stress Versus Positive Pressure

While stress can be harmful if it is not treated properly, or in time, there is something to be said for its role in helping us to push ourselves to meet ambitious goals, face up to something scary, resolve conflict with others and to experience life outside our comfort zone. Being aware of pressures surrounding a task or aspiration helps us to stay focused, work hard and take things seriously.

The first step in turning stress or pressure into a useful business tool is to know what triggers it in the first place.

Sometimes, it can be something outside of your control, but often it is a factor that you can work to change to your advantage, so long as you know what it is. Deadlines and timings, for example, can lose much of their pressure with plenty of prior planning, keeping on top of your diary and making sure that everyone involved in a project knows what they need to deliver when[1].

Disorganisation can also cause a lot of stress, so establishing workable routines for keeping your workspace tidy, for example or your stock management system up to date can help you relax, knowing that you can put your hands on anything you need with minimum effort or concern. If you know that you tend to feel less energetic or optimistic in the morning or afternoon, then schedule your time so that you are working hardest at times when you feel better able to cope. Set smaller goals that are easier and quicker to achieve, rather than feeling like you need to tackle absolutely everything at once. This keeps things more varied too, so that the day passes more quickly and you avoid becoming bored or despondent by just sticking to one long task that can easily overwhelm you by its sheer size.

Making ‘to-do’ lists can also help you timetable your day in a way that helps you cope with your workload and prioritise things that are more likely to cause you stress if left undone for too long. Organise your day to get the larger or more ‘horrible’ things done quickly and out of your in-tray. This will make life easier for your team too, who will have a better idea of what to expect from their working day and – crucially, what you expect from them. Personal or departmental ‘to-do’ lists can really help you and your team to avoid disagreements, prevent conflicts and stop you from losing your temper if something gets missed out.

Don’t forget to ask for help when feeling the pressure. Working together with other people on a tough task can often foster stronger friendship bonds that will help your team feel closer than ever before. Delegating responsibility to a team member helps the other person grow in their own role and increases trust between you both. Don‘t forget to acknowledge their help and give them their due credit when everything is completed and it’s time for praise and recognition. The positive endorphins that are generated by our bodies when something good happens to us can go a long way to relieving any residual stress or physical symptoms of anxiety. Finally, while you can sometimes change the physical factors that are causing you stress, there are times when you will not be able to alter anything and simply have to play the hand that you have been dealt. The trick here is to shift your mindset instead, so that you are changing the way that you react and think about what’s happening. We have already seen how a symptom of stress can be a feeling that you have lost control. Bring that control back and calm your emotional state by reminding yourself that you, and only you, are in charge of how you react and feel about the situation. If you feel the pressure rising, take some time to check how you are feeling and, if you want to change it, do so. No excuses!

Helping Others Manage Stress

As a leader, you may well find that your own change of mood and emotion when faced with pressure or stress will have a profound impact on your team and those working around you, especially in times of crisis. Fear can lock our attempts to align our three brains and gain a stronger control over our reactions[1]. Seeing someone whom we trust step up, take charge and calmly face a situation gives us strength as well and reassurance that we, too, can tackle whatever the stressful situation may involve.

Once we ourselves are felling calmer, we can turn our attention to others feeling the heat. Encourage your team to think logically about things and to try and figure out if they have missed anything vital in their analysis of the situation. Encourage them to talk things through with you or someone else in the business to gain a valuable external perspective. Lead them through the mBraining process of aligning their three brains to see the issue from the different points of view. Look into stress management techniques that can calm the mind quickly and re-set the body in time to influence the outcome of a stressful event. One technique worth exploring is coherent breathing, as described below.

Have A Go…

Coherent breathing allows the body to relax and let go of the physical reactions to stress that can inhibit its three brains to align. It can help slow down a racing heart, restore an anxious mind to a more balanced state and offer clarity in decision-making. It increases your control in choosing how to react to whatever is piling on the pressure or stress and – best of all – doesn’t take long or need any special equipment to complete.

Simply put, coherent breathing involves sitting quietly, focusing on breathing and out while allowing our head, heart and gut to sync and become aligned. Find somewhere quiet and comfortable to sit and breathe deeply in and out, gradually slowing down the rate, until you are inhaling and exhaling again deeply once every six seconds or so. You can play around with the lengths of time involved, but never hold your breath or breathe so slowly that you start to feel unwell. It is perfectly normal to take longer to exhale than inhale – this is a very personal exercise, so see what works for you. It might also help to place your hand on your rib cage or stomach as you breathe to really feel the air enter and leave your body.

The process is designed to make the body and mind relax, and the heart rate slow down, thanks to its effect on the autonomic nervous system. It also stops us from breathing too quickly and taking in too much oxygen, which can cause hyperventilation and heightened feelings of anxiety. Coherent breathing can help relieve physical stress symptoms too, such as restlessness or nausea. Finally, by focusing on the simple task of breathing in and out, we force our minds to temporarily stop thinking and obsessing over the stressful issues at hand and concentrate instead on calming our physical reactions to them.

Eventually, as you become more proficient at coherent breathing, you can do it anywhere – at work, home, gym – and at any time that you might be in an enhanced state of pressure or stress.

If you would like to find out more about stress and how to manage it positively, contact us to discuss how I can help you stay on top of your emotions, feelings and aspirations at work





[5] mBraining: Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff, pg. 190 (paperback)– 25 Apr 2012

Post Author: Gayle Young