Let me begin by saying that stress, in and of itself, is not bad. However, when we experience too much stress problems arise. Let me illustrated using exercise as an example. We know that lifting weights can increase ones strength and fitness level. If a person lifts weights that are too heavy or tries to do too many repetitions it can have the opposite effect. Rather than strengthening or improving fitness, it can damage muscles and disable a person. Stress can strengthen and improve a person’s ability in life, however too much stress can have the opposite effect.
With this in mind let me say that an attitude, which believes all stress is bad, will negate any growth opportunities. In Romans, we are told, “all things work for good…” (8:29). God includes stress to help us grow. Stress can be renamed “trials and testing” allowing us to have a biblical response to stressful situations. God will not allow us to be over-stressed; usually too much stress is the result of our own actions or inaction.
As mentioned earlier, life is best lived within the context of seasons. When we experience a season of stress we are able to cope by following up with a season that is stress free.
What is stress?
Stress is a condition of the body brought about by actual or anticipated difficulties in life. It affects the body by setting off an alarm reaction. The result of this is an increase in adrenalin, which increases the heart rate and blood pressure. If the stressor is prolonged the body reaction peaks but leaves below normal responses for other stressors. This is why people under a great deal of job stress are often more likely to catch colds and flu. The outcome, if not checked, is that the body eventually loses its ability to adapt and enters the stage of exhaustion, which eventually leads to break-down.
What causes you stress?
When identifying stress it is important to realise that one person’s stress may be another person’s excitement. Different people have different stressors and it is helpful to discover what specifically causes you stress. This is essentially a journey of self-awareness.
For example, a dinner party to an introvert can be experienced quite differently by an extrovert.
I am an introvert. That means my energy comes from time alone where I can reflect from my inner world. Extraverts get their energy through interaction with people. A dinner party is an extravert’s joy and an introvert’s duty. Too many dinner parties for an introvert may be two in a week whereas an extravert may thrive on four in one week.
One particular week for me had been very busy with no time for me to reflect. By Friday I could feel the tension in my body. Lesley and I had agreed to go to dinner with a group that night but did not know which restaurant was chosen. When I was told it was to be in North Bridge, Perth’s busiest Friday night hot spot, my stomach went into a knot. I felt the stress level rising dramatically. Most extraverts would not even comprehend how I was feeling. To them crowds are not an issue. For me I hate, loath and detest crowded shopping centres etc. I have to be feeling very relaxed to tackle them.
An extrovert needs time alone but needs more time to interact with people. Extroverts who work in seclusion need to include people time and even “seasons” of gregarious living like family camps.
How do you behave under stress?
Associated with learning what causes you stress it is important to identify how you behave under stress. What are the behavioural signs and the mental signs? Behavioural signs are things like overeating; upset stomach; moody; being argumentative and snappy etc. Mental signs are things like negative though patterns etc. Harmful psychological games are played in the mind under stress.
What releases stress for you?
An equally important part of coping with stress is identifying what releases stress for you. Some find release in vigorous exercise; others lose themselves in a book or a movie, or by going to dinner with their spouse or a group of friends.
Can you prevent some stress?
When thinking prevention balance and seasons are important. As mentioned earlier, I do not like crowded places when I am stressed. If I am relaxed that is a different story. Ensuring personal time, exercise and balance of seasons reduces stress for me. What are your preferred leisure activities?
Another stressor for me is detail work. I am intuitive and prefer visioning, being creative and developing concepts and theories. Dealing with the detail of a project is something I can do but find it stressful. Within my leadership team I have people that find it stressful trying to be creative or visionary but give them the details to work on and they are happy. Can you delegate some stressful tasks to those more gifted to them?
To be continued…
In the next edition of “Thoughts on Leadership”