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Stress is often viewed as an exclusively negative sensation. Work deadlines pile up, family drama takes its toll, busy schedules wear us thin — we end up mentally exhausted. This emotion occurs when someone feels an imbalance between a challenge and the resources they have to deal with. Researchers have identified two different types of stress — distress, which refers to negative stress (a breakup) and eustress, which refers to positive stress (starting a new job).
Chronic stress is defined as “the physiological or psychological response to a prolonged internal or external stressful event,” according to the American Psychological Association, and has been linked to smaller brain size, unhealthy eating, irregular sleep patterns and an increased likelihood of chronic disease.
In small doses, stress can actually have some positive effects. Moderate levels of daily, manageable stress may help protect against oxidative damage, which is linked to aging and disease. Eustress occurs when you step outside your comfort zone for a purpose, such as taking on a challenging new project or performing in front of an audience. Eustress creates feelings of satisfaction, excitement and fulfillment, which are critical to overall well-being.
As a leader, you can apply the right stress to your team so they feel capable and confident, having risen to a challenge. Here are a few reasons why stress can help supercharge a team.
While heightened stress can feel overwhelming and decrease motivation, a little bit can go a long way when it comes to kickstarting a project. When employees are stressed and under pressure, the task may be completed in a more efficient manner. Once complete, the feeling of accomplishment can motivate them to tackle the next task with the same mindset.
BUILD RESILIENCE AND ENCOURAGE GROWTH
Even though stress can feel overwhelming, it also forces people to problem solve, ultimately building confidence and skills that are important for future experiences. With increased resiliency, people tend to feel less threatened and more in control of their situations.
Urge employees to stop catastrophizing when something negative happens in the workplace. To help employees do that, a manager needs to be more transparent in everyday interactions. For instance, instead of messaging an employee to, “Come see me in my office,” try, “Please come by to talk about questions I have on your report.”
As a manager, you should also aim to be more transparent about the company, its status and expectations. Managers can encourage employees to take three steps to reduce catastrophizing about a situation:
- Write down the worst-case scenario
- Identify the best-case scenario
- Identify the most-likely scenario
One of the most surprising benefits of stress is that it can help build interpersonal relationships, which are key to overall health. Social connection is one of the most protective factors against physical and mental health problems. When people feel loved and understood by another person, they feel less alone and isolated.
Support groups, for example, are a great place for people to talk about their stresses with others, which builds compassion and, in turn, positive hormones. By opening up to one another in the office, people feel better because they can relate to each other’s struggles and validate their feelings, creating positivity out of a negative experience. Talking to coworkers can build and strengthen relationships too. A lot of our friendships or work relationships wouldn’t be the same without hardships.
STRESS IS A PART OF A MEANINGFUL LIFE
A work environment without stress is not necessarily better. Take, for example, an employee is working under a tight deadline to get a presentation done. The time crunch can be challenging and push the employee’s limits. However, in the end, one accomplished something to be proud of. The things that we are most proud of and bring us the most meaning in life are hard. If stress is wiped out, we would also likely wipe away a lot of the meaning in our lives.
Stress is inevitable among employees, and employers can do their part to help create healthy work environments. At the same time, they should challenge employees to reach their full potential so banishing stress altogether is probably not feasible. The right balance is tough to strike, but it’s achievable.