When we think of stress, we often make negative associations.
After all, we have been fed a narrative via mainstream press and medical sectors surrounding stress and its negative impact on health - so it is understandable that we are inclined to automatically think of stress as an enemy and try to avoid it at all costs.
However, would you believe us if we told you that stress can actually be a good thing?
First up, it's important to take a look at the facts.
According to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), in the past year 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.
The MHF also found that younger people have higher stress related to the pressure to succeed. 60% of 18-24-year-olds and 41% of 25-34-year-olds cited this, compared to 17% of 45-54s and 6% of over 55s). Interestingly, they also found that 30% of older people reported never feeling overwhelmed due to stress, compared to just 7% of young adults.
The most common cause of stress is work-related stress with 79% saying they frequently felt it (Statistica) and according to CIPHR, one in 14 UK adults (7%) feel stressed every single day (CIPHR).
A worrying statistic shows that inpatient hospital admissions caused by stress-related illnesses in the UK cost around ¬£8.13bn (Statistica).
Huh? Did you just say stress is a good thing?
Whilst there is no denying stress is relatively universal and widespread, there are some fascinating studies that might change your attitude - and approach - to stress. And it might just save your life!
Kelly Mcgonigal's TED talk is well worth a listen. To summarise, Kelly looks at research carried out on 30,000 adults in the USA over 9 years. They were asked if they believed stress was harmful to their health. Of those who reported high stress in the last year, there was a 43% increase in risk of dying BUT that was only true in the group that believed stress was harmful to their health.
In the group that did not believe stress was harmful to their health, they were no more likely to die.
According to this study, once scaled up, the belief that stress is bad for you could be the 15th largest cause of death in the USA - higher than skin cancer. Kelly states that by changing how you think about stress, you can change your body's response to it.
Another study by Kaufer and UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby has uncovered exactly how acute stress (short-lived, not chronic) primes the brain for improved performance.
They found that too little stress can lead to boredom and depression, too much can cause anxiety and poor health but the right amount of acute stress tunes up the brain and improves performance and health.
Daniela Kaufer said: You always think about stress as a really bad thing, but it's not. Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioural and cognitive performance.‚Äù
But is it really a good thing?
If you look into some of the research coming out, yes it can be. It can be a really effective tool to prevent boredom, and keep cognitive performance high.
Embracing stress and reframing your attitude towards it could also have a significant impact on our health.
BUT you need to know how to manage it - and recognise when it's becoming a problem..
There are still instances where stress is a bad thing. Too much stress over a prolonged period of time - otherwise known as chronic stress - has been proven to have a negative impact on health, it could lead to burnout, and is something you should talk to your health provider about.
Managing stress is one of the keys to success in many aspects of life. Ideally, stress should be short lived. However, it can be difficult to realise how stressed you are when we are busy focussing on work, personal life and other distractions. We find a brilliant method to use here is continuous self-reflection.
When did you last take a moment to reflect on your wellbeing? How much work do you have on your to-do list at the moment? Is there anything that is making you feel stressed, and if so how long do you anticipate that stress will last for? Is it manageable?
If you are a team leader, it's equally important to reflect on your team, too. Are you approaching a particularly stressful time or situation at work? How might that impact your team and, crucially, be on the lookout for prolonged stress or employees who are experiencing severe stress.
Vyou can help both employees and team leaders identify, manage and forecast for stress and many other workplace challenges through a web app focused on self-reflection, webinars and one-to-one human coaching.
Find out more about how Vyou can help you and your team manage stress at work and one of the Vyou team will provide a no-obligation walk through and information sharing session.