Year of Resilience Tip 1: Awareness of your stress response is the key to managing it.
The tip this week is to slow down enough to notice what your stressors are.
Let’s start with the stressors.
Can you define stress?
Believe it or not, this is a fairly new term in human language, and since its invention, the definition has constantly been debated. Physician and endocrinologist Hans Selye coined the term in 1936. Selye noticed biological and hormonal changes in lab animals when exposed to acute stimuli such as blaring lights, loud noise, extreme temperatures, and perpetual frustration. If these conditions became persistent, the animals developed chronic diseases.
The term caught fire but became an amorphous descriptor of any bad experience, especially if connected with negative emotions. The proverbial “fight or flight” response became a stand-in metaphor for stress. When encountering a negative situation, a survival mechanism kicks in as we react. But this reaction doesn’t account for the detrimental effects we all experience from “stress”.
The World Health Organization defines stress as “any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. Stress is your body’s response to anything that requires attention or action.”
A Better Understanding of Stress
Rather than focusing on negative reactions as the cause of stress, a better understanding is any event or interaction that causes an internal physical reaction. Your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure increase. Your muscles tense, and you even sweat more. These reactions cause a rush of chemicals through our body that improves awareness and alertness and can create a wide range of emotional responses.
Viewing stress as a physical and emotional reaction to life events broadens the definition beyond the negative. Many life events can be exciting and surprising and create the same response.
The stress response is unavoidable and a natural part of our life. If this response is functioning properly, it works like a wave. An event happens where we need to respond. We become alert and energized and manage the obstacle. Once complete we enter back into a restful mental state to recover from the effects of the event.
Unfortunately, stress becomes negative and disastrous to our mental and physical health when stress overwhelms us in a massively traumatic event or remains high over time.
Traumatic stress vs. Micro-Stressors
How does knowing these facts about stress help you manage those negative emotions and feelings of burnout and anxiety?
Thinking of stress events differently can help you manage stress in your life. Throughout life, we experience two types of stress. Traumatic stress and micro-stressors.
Traumatic stress can be any big event such as hearing bad news about your family, your health, or your job. It could be a catastrophic event or sudden accident.
Micro-stressors are those daily and sometimes hourly events that cause internal reactions you may never notice because they are so frequent.
Most of us recover quickly from the traumatic stresses of life because they are sudden and concrete. Usually, we have a network of others who can come alongside us and help us through those events. Segments of our society are built around helping people through these catastrophic events.
It’s those small micro-stressors that others around us never see that can be more detrimental because they put us in a chronically heightened state of stress without any periods of recovery. It is those small micro-stressors that can be damaging to our physical and emotional health long term.
Continued research demonstrates that this form of long-term stress or chronic stress contributes to a range of health problems such as digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disorders, and other symptoms. Studies at Yale revealed that continual stress exposure can cause changes in the brain that decrease resilience and make us more vulnerable to stress. Research from the University of California found that chronic stress increases impulsiveness lowering our decision-making ability.
To build resilience and mitigate the effects of stress in your life it is critical to begin managing your response to the micro-stressors in your life.
Personalized Stress & Self-Awareness
Knowing that daily micro-stressors are the root of the debilitating effects of stress, how do you begin identifying and managing those stressors?
Generic stress management is not the answer to building resilience and blunting the effects of stress. You must be surgical in the way you approach stress.
The key is to realize that stress is personal.
Not everyone responds the same way to stress. Some events that may create a rise in stress levels in some won’t touch another person. You can begin the process and manage stress response by spending some time in self-awareness and watching how you respond to the events of your day. Look at your reactions to the news, meetings, types of work, and interactions with people in your life.
Ask yourself these questions to get clarity into your stressors:
- What stressors are distinct to you as an individual because of your unique perception?
- What events or people stress you out?
- What tasks cause spikes of emotions?
- How do you recover from heightened events and emotions?
- What type of stress management works for you, and the stress you are feeling?
Developing stress self-awareness takes time to reflect on your work life and how events impact your internal state. Journaling has proven to be an effective tool and discovering the stressors that impact performance. While effective this process can take time before results become apparent. Self-awareness is hard. Studies have shown that while 95% of people think they are self-aware, only 10-15% truly are. But there is good news.
Recent research has found several biomarkers that indicate levels of stress response. With the prevalence of wearable technology such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch, this data can be mined to quickly build self-awareness. Fierce researchers and developers used this technology to build the Pulse App that identifies those biomarkers of stress. Through a sophisticated AI, those stress markers can be connected to the user’s calendar, identifying stress levels, and tailoring actionable steps to mitigate stress and instill new skills.
Early testing demonstrated stress levels decreased on average by 10% and resilience increased by 11% in as little as 2 weeks. One organization was able to show a $300K increase in revenue and showed a 13% increase in the successful execution of strategic initiatives since implementing Pulse within their organization.
Focusing on self-awareness skills is a necessary step to beginning to build resilience and mitigate the effects in your life. As self-awareness increases, you will notice other positive side effects such as greater empathy and openness to others. You will be able to manage your energy outputs more effectively. You will utilize your strengths especially as they relate to stressful events.
Take time daily to cultivate self-awareness. To accelerate your progress, the technology inside the Pulse App can help you and your teams develop this skill faster than you thought possible. Coupled with Pulse, Fierce offers the new Fierce Resilience Program built on a better understanding of stress, self-awareness training, and targeted tools to manage your personal stressors.