Positive and negative stress
The ability to deal with negative stress in appropriate ways seems to be an increasingly central skill in working life. More than 40% of managers and employees in the workplace report periodically stress-related problems in their everyday lives, but where is the limit for what we have to accept? Positive and negative stress.
Most would agree that we rely on a certain amount of pressure to provide maximum. Without deadlines, high goals, and great ambitions, most of us will not perform optimally. A simple approach to understanding the difference between positive and negative stress is based on just this. Positive stress is the inner pressure we need to deliver on top.
Negative stress is when the pressure becomes too high so that it prevents us from performing at a maximum level. Another approach would be to investigate further when the pressure is strongly felt. Positive stress is when the activation is at a high level precisely when we are to perform the important tasks. Negative stress occurs when this activation starts long before the task and / or persists long after the task is completed.
Representatives of the “Mindfulness” tradition make an interesting distinction between negative and positive stress by pointing out that negative stress accumulates when your thoughts and your attention dwell on something other than what you are currently physically doing. The interesting solution from this perspective is that we prevent negative stress through a 100% presence in all our actions. We shall return to this later.
Risk factors and protective mechanisms in working life
Stress research has shifted attention from simple models where attempts were made to identify “global” stressors from a notion that individual events themselves created stress. To more nuanced models where a wide range of factors are seen in relation to each other. Relationships between so-called risk factors and protective mechanisms in the workplace are an example of this.
Among the risk factors, we find unclear requirements and expectations high on the list. We endure and accept high demands as long as they are clear and make sense to us. When we no longer know what is expected of us, stress is triggered. Own role conflicts and the general level of conflicts in the organization also prove to be significant stressors. A sales manager is responsible for developing the sales skills of his employees. Who is also co-responsible for a project focused on savings in the organization’s development budget, will soon experience role conflict.
We also see that the level and quality of relevant information and feedback play a crucial role in the development of stress. Lack of information and insufficient feedback on work performed is a clear risk factor.
When it comes to protective mechanisms against stress, we see that the social support factor plays a crucial role. This is a broad concept that deals with the quality of your relationships in the workplace. In short, we can say that if you experience having colleagues and leaders who want you to succeed and who also invest time and attention on you and your way of solving your tasks, you will be able to withstand far more burdens because you have a basic experience of not being alone.
There is always someone there who will support and help you. It also turns out that you can withstand greater stress if you have control and influence over your own working day. General factors such as job satisfaction and good development opportunities do not surprisingly also prove to protect against stress.
Personality and stress tolerance
We all know that different people have very different stress tolerance. Some of this can be explained naturally by the fact that our tolerance for stressful events will vary depending on our life situation. However, there also appear to be some fundamental differences in personal characteristics that are important for this.
As expected, optimists endure greater pressures than pessimists. By expecting things to go well and settle in the end, you will go through life with more positive energy than you would expect the opposite. It is interesting that your so-called attribution style will also help determine how much stress you can tolerate before you develop negative stress.
Attribution deals with how to attribute events to different causes. In principle, you can choose to explain your own success or failure by referring to internal or external factors. Those who interpret their own performance in light of internal factors such as their own skill, good planning, or a high degree of motivation will have a much higher stress tolerance than those who interpret their performance in light of external factors such as luck or solely the contributions of others.
Both the ability to appreciate challenges, be outside the so-called flow zone and the degree of belief in success (self-confidence) prove to be personal factors that go along with a high degree of stress tolerance.
In a more existential perspective, it seems that the ability to experience various situations and events as meaningful gives a good vaccination effect against stress. On an overall level, we often have the choice between experiencing ourselves as victims of natural forces or other people or experiencing being in situations with a potential for learning to develop.
Different approaches to stress management
Organizations should as far as possible seek to reduce the classic risk factors through clear and engaging leadership. Emphasizing a constructive feedback culture and clear goals and expectations communicated in ways that underpin the company’s vision, overall goals, and values. Departments should, as far as possible, be organized as teams where members engage in each other’s work and development to maximize the impact of social support. To the extent that employees can be involved in decisions concerning their own working day, this will also be stress-reducing. In other words, this is simply about good management.
Many different individual measures can have a positive effect in terms of managing stress more constructively. First, it appears that general health-promoting measures will also have a constructive impact on managing stress better. Including adequate sleep, exercise and a good diet with moderate use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.
Since psychological stress is largely about the experience of not having sufficient control. Good planning and clear priorities in one’s life will have a clear positive effect.
I previously mentioned in the article “Mindfulness” or “attentive presence” as an approach to stress management. This perspective is based on ancient Buddhist traditions that have been “westernized” and purified for religious meaning. Attention has been frequently mentioned in the media in recent years and the approach may point to very uplifting research findings related to stress-related symptoms.
The approach is based on several types of techniques and methods, but there is a systematic training of attention. Various forms of yoga, meditation, and registration of one’s own physical, mental and emotional states are fundamental here. By devoting 15-20 minutes daily to one or more of these activities, one will soon have the ability to be attentively present.
This ability is then taken into everyday life’s more or less stress-relieving situations. Through a strengthened presence, one will at a much earlier stage become aware of its inner turmoil. This allows you to choose other options than the old “autopilot behavior” that previously led to increased stress. It is easy for the motivated reader to find more information about “Mindfulness” in books and online.
As we have previously seen, there are also relationships between personal factors and the ability to deal with stress. Attention training can be a viable way to further develop these factors. Good luck!