Learning to develop stress capacity and enhance your stress coping skills
By Amber Hanna
It seems that stress has become an unavoidable side effect in today’s workplace. Rapidly changing market demands have added an extra layer of unpredictability and stress to the already stressful day to day experiences of many businesses in Ireland. Increasingly the causes of increased stress are outside our control, when this is the case the best way to tackle rising stress levels is to prepare yourself and begin to learn how to modify your response to these unexpected and increasingly difficult stressors. This article will offer some tips on how you can begin to actively manage your own stress levels.
The single most effective way to enhance our capability to deal with stress is by improving one’s overall physical condition. Research confirms that the better your overall physical condition, the more able you are to cope with stress. Good physical condition has also been linked to higher self esteem and a more positive outlook on life in general. Physical condition is largely determined by diet, nutrition and exercise – subjects that are well beyond our capacity to cover here in any depth. Most of us freely acknowledge the potential benefits of improved physical condition, while our attempts to manage ourselves in this respect meet with varying degrees of success. A key point is that exercise, in particular, is an energy source, not an energy drain. Time set aside for exercise is guaranteed to lead to enhanced focus and productivity in any work role and as such is a great way to develop our capacity to deal with stress.
We can also increase our stress capacity by developing our emotional resiliency. Self awareness can help us manage stress by increasing our ability to understand and predict our responses to events and the way others will react to us. Self awareness can be developed for example via personality profiles (e.g., Myers Briggs, 16PF or the EQI) or by feedback, including 360 feedback from colleagues. Psychologists also believe that self talk is also an important determinant of how we feel in any given situation. Negative self talk is itself a barrier to performance and a source of stress. Regardless of the context, negative self talk will only make things worse; conversely, positive self talk can help reduce stress.
Learn how to manage stress
When you feel like the stress in your life may be getting out of control, remember that while you may not be able to control life’s stressors you can control your response to them. The number one thing to take into account when trying to manage stress is to take charge! You can manage the stress in your life by taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. Stress management involves changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction when you can’t, taking care of yourself, and making time for rest and relaxation.
People deal with stressful situations in their own unique way. Psychologists have grouped the variety of coping methods people employ into three groups. These are, problem focused coping, emotion focused coping and seeking social support.
Problem focused coping occurs in people who reduce their anxiety about an upcoming event by focussing on the problem at hand. Preparing power point slides and rehearsing questions in advance for that upcoming presentation for example. People who use this method directly confront their problem and try and change the situation so it is no longer stressful for them.
Emotion focused coping strategies occur when people try to manage their own response to a stressful situation rather than directly face the problem. Forms of this response can vary from avoidance of the situation altogether to grim acceptance that the situation can’t be changed so ‘I have to just get on with it’.
The last type of coping strategy employed by people under stress is that of seeking social support which involves to turning to others for assistance and emotional support in times of stress.
Research has shown that a combination of problem focused coping and seeking social support lead to the best outcomes for people under stress. Unsurprisingly, emotion focused coping strategies that centre on avoidance, denial or wishful thinking do not result in favourable outcomes. However emotion focused strategies that are useful for tackling stress include those that involve identifying your own emotional responses and trying to change irrational negative thinking patterns regarding stressful situations.
For many people stress in today’s workplace situations may be outside their control. In these cases problem focused solutions involving changing the situation so it no longer causes stress may not be possible. When this is the case emotion focused coping strategies may be the most effective option, because even if it not possible to change the situation we can change our responses, preventing or controlling further negative effects of stress resulting from our own negative responses to stress.
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Amber Hanna is a trainee Organisational Psychologist at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists