Stress – the ultimate balancing act?

Creating anything worthwhile is going to carry a degree of stress. In fact, more often than not, the stress is an essential ingredient to delivering the final success.

In the UK the annual cost of stress is estimated to be £4billion, with the US figure at around $300billion. Given those staggering numbers, the whole area of stress management doesn’t need too much of a sell.

In line with Kelly McGonigal from her great TED talk, we want to present a different view of stress and help you change your attitude towards stress, and make it something that’s more of a help to you than a hindrance.

Reading time: 4 minutes

What goes on

A huge amount of time and effort is spent telling us that stress is bad for us and assessing the cost of stress, just as we’ve done above. However, the remarkable thing is that stress is only bad for you if you believe that stress is bad for you!

Research shows that for people who believe that stress is not harmful to them, are less likely to experience the negative side effects so often associated with stress.

Given this beautifully simple finding, we’re going to focus on giving you the best chance of developing the most helpful possible relationship with stress that you can develop… whether anticipated stressful things or otherwise. That feels like a far more helpful approach to share than perpetuating the belief that stress is the enemy.

Five Performance Truths

  1. Stress happens when there’s a mismatch between the perceived demands and the perceived ability to meet those demands. And, nothing new ever gets achieved without doing something that’s not been done before. So, you’ll always start something important from a position of being stressed.
  2. The physical symptoms we often associate with stress (increased heart rate, breathing, sweaty palms) are your easiest way to begin changing how you respond to stress. What if these signs are your body’s way of showing you that you’re ready and energised for the challenge?
  3. In stressful situations, heart rate will always go up. The big difference comes in your cardiovascular system. Get a helpful outlook, and resistance in the system decreases, making it easier for your body to work. Get an unhelpful outlook, resistance increases, putting your body in an unhealthy state.
  4. When you regularly look ahead and anticipate moments of pressure, you give yourself maximum opportunity to prepare and implement your helpful stress response tactics.
  5. People who believe stress is bad for them have an increased risk of dying when compared to people who don’t believe stress is harmful for them. Your choice.

Three things to do

  1. Review your personal history with stress over the last few years and decide whether it’s killing you or protecting you!
  2. Look ahead over the next 6 months and assess how much stress you think you’re going to be facing and highlight how great all of these moments are going to be for you.
  3. Go and ask some other people about their relationship with stress and see if you can help them shift how it’s working for them.


Adebayo’s story

Adebayo’s story is a simple one of changing a relationship with stress. Adebayo had always been focused on results and expected a lot of himself in every situation. As a result, he was usually focused on the demands he was facing, rather than being focused on his growing ability, knowledge and skill.

The excessive focus on results and constantly moving on to the next thing meant Adebayo often felt out of control, often doubted he’d be able to deliver another success and always felt that goals were make or break reflections on him as a person. All of this meant Adebayo felt stressed and he didn’t like feeling constantly on edge as if something bad were about to happen.

Adebayo attended a conference where one of the speakers spoke about the positive side of stress and how it’s an essential fuel for helping great things happen, provided you’re dialled into the right mindset. After listening with interest, Adebayo was sold on the idea that he could still have the feelings and physical reactions to the demands he was putting on himself, but he could have a better mindset towards his performance and the feelings.

After practising for a while with a new way of thinking, Adebayo was slowly able to get a simple recipe of staying in the moment and taking control of the next important step towards success. He was able to add to his moment by moment approach with reference to all his past success and reasons why he should back himself to be able to deliver what he was asking of himself. Finally, he was able to focus more on what he wanted to learn about himself by achieving the successes he was pitching for (less focus on the outcome and more focus on how to deliver the outcome). This shift in mindset meant that when his heart rate was up, and he felt urgency to act, he could see these are useful bodily responses that were fuel for making his best efforts.

It’s still a work in progress, but the early shift in attitude towards big moments for him (he was looking forward to them and not dreading them) and the quicker speed of recovery after them, was enough to motivate him to continue the efforts to change his relationship with stress.

Kelly McGonigal TED talk – How to make stress your friend