Last week I ran a talk on ‘handling stress’ at the British Museum for their staff.
It’s a signature talk of mine that is often one of the most popular – as chosen by the HR or wellbeing team.
However, having given this talk at a number of companies over the past year, what I’ve come to notice is that it’s a very small percentage of people (in relation to how many employees actually work at the company) that sign up.
… And I don’t think it’s because hardly anyone is suffering with stress – especially considering some of the large corporate firms I’ve spoken at!!
But it was after a conversation I had with the person who brought me in to speak at the British Museum last Friday, when we were discussing the low turn-out (even though he is aware that many people are suffering with stress based on their employee survey results year on year) that I connected the dots and then it was suddenly so obvious!
… Many people either don’t want to admit they’re stressed, or they don’t want to be seen going to a talk on handling stress – especially in the workplace!
To be honest, I now feel a little bit slow in the sense that I didn’t realise right from the start that this would be the case!
It makes complete sense to me that someone may be wary of certain assumptions being made about them if they attend a talk on ‘handling stress’ – i.e. they’re currently not handling it well.
And it makes sense that they wouldn’t really want their boss, peers, colleagues to know that. Especially if they’re working in a competitive environment.
They’d probably feel it would leave them looking ‘weaker’ or less able to do their job or to signify that they’re struggling in some way.
And I can completely understand that.
But what it really highlights for me is that stress has many negative associations attached to it.
So, what I want to share with you today is how stress isn’t always a bad thing.
Stress is actually an unavoidable consequence of life.
As Hans Selye 1907-1982 (best known for his studies on effects of stress on the human body) noted,
“Without stress, there would be no life”.
Just as distress can cause disease, there are good stresses that promote wellness. Stress is not always necessarily harmful.
For example, any time you are starting a new level of growth in your life, you will undoubtedly experience stress because you’re out of your comfort zone. You can feel high levels of stress, anxiety and a loss of clarity when you’re in a state of change.
I for one have gone through this phase more than handful of times in my life and specifically in relation to my business every time it requires me to step up!
In the past I used to think it was a bad sign …That it meant I couldn’t handle things … That I had a problem … That I was an ‘anxious’ person … That maybe I wasn’t cut out for business …
Yet what I’ve learnt along the way is that stress can actually hugely enhance our levels of creativity and growth if we understand how to channel the energy in the right direction.
And what’s also really important here, if not the most important, is that we don’t automatically assume stress is wrong or bad.
A really great way to do this is if you refer to stress as ‘tension’ – because that’s what it is in truth. Your mind and your body feel tense because you’re responding to a demand for (real or perceived) change, adjustment or adaptation.
So, for example you can say something along the lines of:
“I’m feeling quite a lot of tension today.”
“I’m feeling tense because of …”
… Doesn’t it feel different and better to say it this way?
Then imagine if you also know and believe that something good will come from the tension/stress … You can see how it’s far easier to accept the feeling?
To me, it feels more empowering to use the word ‘tension’, mostly because I think stress is such a big topic in the modern-day world that it’s had so many negative connotations attached to it, whereas tension is a word or state that is quite neutral.
But coming back to stress being tension, for the most part (aside from mood or chronic stress disorders) that is what stress is.
And you can channel that tension into either worry and negative thinking – which doesn’t serve you at all and then the result of that is further stress and worry – or you can channel it in to creativity and sometimes excitement.
According to motivational speaker Mel Robbins, fear is actually exactly the same feeling as ‘excitement’ based on what’s happening in your body.
So, for example, if you’re nervous and feeling stressed before giving a presentation or when going for a job interview or when pitching to a new client you can literally turn from fear into excitement by acknowledging what’s going on in your body (sweaty palms, armpits, butterflies in the stomach etc.) then say to yourself something like:
“I feel excited to go and speak to these people, I feel excited to share this information with them”
“I feel excited to go into this interview, I feel excited to present my best self and all that I’m capable of”
“I feel excited to speak with this potential client, I feel excited that I/we can serve them well and make a difference in their life/to their business”
By doing this you’re actually telling your brain that it’s excitement over fear and your body and mind will believe you!!
How amazing is that!
As I also mentioned above, you can channel the tension of stress into creativity and your ‘genius’ zone.
In fact, believe it or not we actually need the tension (stress) in our life to tap into our genius…
When you’re experiencing tension about something, your mind can get really creative. I’m sure you can think of time where you came up with an idea or produced a piece of work when under pressure and once it was over and you looked back you wondered where that insight or that level of genius came from?!
Sometimes we can amaze ourselves in times of tension, fear and stress.
So, the point I’m making today is that stress, tension and fear can be a good thing – as long as we look at it that way, which then allows us to use it to our advantage if we know what to do with it and how to master it.
Going back to the title of my talk, I am currently mulling over a number of new titles that will feel more empowering so that more people turn up and get the benefits of the information I share!
There is of course a down-side to stress, so next week I’ll be talking more about that.
Until then, if you’re feeling stressed try describing it as tension and trust that something good will come from that energy, or turn it into excitement and see what happens!