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Stress at work ? The five steps that help to reduce it!

Stress at work ? The five steps that help to reduce it!

Two out of three employees regularly live stress at work.

That’s a lot!

If you are one of them I can only advise you to continue reading.

Our environment has become very demanding. We always have to work more, harder, quicker, with less means and so on. Technology helps us a lot. Unfortunately, at the same time it requires flexibility and an important capacity to permanently adapt to new situations.

And that, for us humans, is exactly the problem. We are not the best champions to adapt. For different reasons, by the way.

First of all, it’s important to understand what exactly is stress.

Initially, if we look back to the evolution of the human being, stress helped us to react instinctively in life-threatening situations. In times that we lived in caves we mainly were threatened by wild animals. In case we were attacked, we had to save our lives by killing the animal (instead of getting killed) or run away. Sometimes, it also helped to freeze and discourage the animal by not moving.

In any case, stress was meant to appear when our live was in jeopardy and when we had to react quickly during a short period of time in order to survive.

Our environment has changed. Unfortunately, this part of our brain that is responsible for our stress reactions, hasn’t changed that much.

But there is one big difference. In normal life we don’t face wild animals anymore.

So what makes us stress then ?

Actually, it’s our interpretation of external messages that our brain receives and that we transform into thoughts (mainly negative or threatening ones) and emotions (very often emotions of fear or anxiety, mistrust or a perception of aggression). The big difference is that the external event or stimulus does not really threaten our life. Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t see the difference between a real threat (the wild animal) and the threat that we create ourselves through our thoughts and our emotions. The reaction is the same: we produce adrenaline and cortisol to prepare our body to react rapidly. In a certain way, it’s a misinterpretation of our brain with the consequence of an incoherent reaction compared to the initial event.

Incoherence is not the only malfunctioning we suffer from in our times. We are also much too long exposed to this kind of incoherent reaction. Our thoughts never stop compared to the wild animal that got killed or ran away.

This long exposure to stress hormones is extremely harmful to our body and our health.

So, what can we do?

Five tips to reduce your stress level:

  1. Become conscious about the fact that our brain is misleading us. Ask yourself questions like these:
    “I stress, which element is really threatening my life here?”
    “What’s really going on with me?”
  2. Change your viewpoint on the situation: “if I’m not in a life-threatening situation, which other interpretation could I give to what I’m going through now?”
  3. Accept things that you cannot change or that you cannot influence (e.g. your boss’s personality) and concentrate on the elements that you can change (e.g. what’s happening in your head).
  4. Look for your interior calm: control your breathing, if necessary, go for a walk, move around. It’s only if you become calm again that you will find a way to get you out of this stress moment.
  5. And finally, once you’re calm, you will be able again to develop a new vision of things that will allow you to find solutions more easily and react differently, without stress, without smashing doors or getting lost in your emotions.

Easy to say, you probably think now.

In that case, I can assure you that it’s possible to learn. Not from one day to the other, but step by step, slowly but certainly you will become more and more conscious that you have the choice to react differently.

If it doesn’t seem easy to you I can only invite you to let you accompany during this period of personal change and development. You can do so by following one of our webinars or courses or through personal coaching on this topic.

Follow us on Facebook or link through LinkedIn to be kept informed about the different events or simply contact us for more information. It’s for free and without any obligations.

And if you have friends that are easily stressed, share this information with them.

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Happiness does not help to create healthier work environments!

Happiness does not help to create healthier work environments!

Thanks to a recent survey from Robert Half conducted in 8 different countries with over 23.000 respondents we now know that American and German workers are the happiest ones and Belgian and French are the unhappiest ones.

At the same time this survey tells us that Germans take the most interest in their jobs but they are also the most stressed ones at their work whereas the Dutch workers are second at being interested in their job and they have the lowest stress level of all.

Belgians and French are somewhere in the middle of the indicator of interest in their work with a rather high level of stress.

Reading these results I was wondering what is the link between happiness at work and stress?

If we look into the definitions of Wikipedia we find what is happiness (limited to the psychological part of the definition): “Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being which can be defined by, among others, positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy”

And what is stress: “In psychology, stress is a feeling of strain and pressure. …

Stress can be external and related to the environment, but may also be created by internal perceptions that cause an individual to experience anxiety or other negative emotions surrounding a situation, such as pressure, discomfort, etc., which they then deem stressful.

Humans experience stress, or perceive things as threatening, when they do not believe that their resources for coping with obstacles (stimuli, people, situations, etc.) are enough for what the circumstances demand. When we think the demands being placed on us exceed our ability to cope, we then perceive stress.”

Too many negative emotions for a long time create illness. That’s no secret. But if we cannot decrease negative emotions by increasing positive emotions we can only decrease stress by reducing the stress factors that created it.

In other words: happiness does not help us to create healthier work environments.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t say that we should not work on happiness at work. It certainly has a positive impact on motivation and engagement but not on reducing stress.

If it’s not happiness that we need, what do we need to reduce stress?

Touching the ground of negative emotions, as the definition of stress tells us, we perceive things as threatening because we judge that we are not capable to handle them.

On what do we base our judgment? On our instinct, programmed millions of years ago when we had to fight or run away from the savage wildlife.

Actually, the typical human stress reaction that we know as the 3 F (fight, flight or freeze) were very useful when we lived in caves and were threatened by dangerous animals. Unfortunately this part of our brain has not changed over the years, whereas our environment has: we don’t live in caves anymore but in a demanding VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment. So today, we perceive our boss, colleague, client, or even our thoughts, as « dangerous animals » and our brain just reacts as if we were facing a life- threatening situation. Our brain doesn’t see the difference.

We need to learn to react differently.

To reduce stress we need to understand how the human brain works and get out of our automatic reply. Our managers, colleagues, clients and our own thoughts are no bears or tigers. As individuals we need to learn to identify what triggers us and instead of reacting immediately in an instinctive way we need to ask ourselves some crucial questions:

  • Am I really in a life-threatening situation?
  • What does really trigger my stress reaction?
  • What alternatives do I have?
  • What decision could I take towards this situation that helps me to see things differently?

By seeing things differently you actually use a different part of your brain; you mainly move your brain activities from the instinctive part to the adaptive part that helps you to be more creative and more flexible and to decrease stress. (cfr neuro-cognitive approach).

In my opinion, if we learn more about how the human brain functions and learn how to use our adaptive brain, in combination with a company culture of communication (talking to each other), empathy (understanding each other) and collaboration (working with each other) we will certainly decrease the general stress level.

If the increase of happiness does not decrease stress, on the contrary, decreasing stress helps us to free room for more happiness.

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