Techniques for managing stress
High performance business coach Charlène Gisèle provides insights from neuroscience that show how important it is to focus on the positive.
The Great Resignation has highlighted that businesses need to be building a culture of emotional fitness and high resilience so when uncertain and challenging times occur, managers and employees are not left feeling overwhelmed and overworked.
Building emotional fitness gives managers and employees the resilience tools they need to help them overcome and perform in difficult times.
In times of heightened stress, it is important to build your emotional fitness with tools that can improve your performance and mental well-being by identifying and managing negative emotions and stressful states.
Neuroscience shows that negative events elicit more significant responses in the brain than positive events, which explains why we tend to dwell more on negative events. This is known as negativity bias, which holds true even when negative and positive events are of the same magnitude, meaning we feel negative events more intensely.
Many studies on the psychology of loss aversion show us that our losses are two and a half times more potent than our gains. So, for example, if in one day at work you receive one piece of negative feedback and two pieces of positive feedback, you will most likely spend a lot more time thinking about the one negative piece of feedback.
Acknowledging our brain’s negativity bias is already a significant step into understanding why we dwell on these events so much and opens up the opportunity for us to work on how to minimise this going forward.
To do this, you need to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. By ruminating on negative events, you will strengthen the neural pathways for negative thinking and worrying. Knowing this gives you the power to reverse negative bias by shifting your mind to focus on positives instead.
Every time you catch yourself dwelling on a negative, catch your thoughts and shift your mindset back to a positive. Even if it is a small win, it will work. Over time you eventually become less affected by negative events, as you will have built a neural habit of focusing on the positive.
However, this is one hurdle in the way of this method: making sure you are not in a fight or flight state. This can be very difficult in our modern working world as many different stimuli can provoke our fight or flight response and keep us in a state of high adrenaline.
Chronic activation of your fight or flight response impairs health, performance and your ability to mentally shift emotions into the positive. It is near impossible to talk yourself out of a negative situation when your adrenaline and cortisol are running high; evolutionary speaking it’s like trying to tell yourself you are happy when a lion is chasing you.
Trying to control your body with your mind does not work. Instead, you have to use your body to control your body. The quickest way to take control of your body if you are in a fight or flight state is to slow down your heart rate by invoking a relaxation response.
The three most efficient and practical methods you can start implementing are breath work, physical activity and social support.
Slow deep breathing induces our relaxation response by stimulating our vagus nerve, which is part of our parasympathetic nervous system. When stimulated, the vagus nerve sends signals throughout the body to calm the body, slow our heart rate, and relax our muscles. Take regular 1 to 3 minutes ‘breathing breaks’ before and after key meetings, client events, hitting send on important emails or going into presentations.
Physical activity such as taking a brisk walk when feeling stressed helps relieve muscle tension and deepens our breathing, which releases positive chemicals in the body that counteract high cortisol levels. Taking regular walking breaks for 2 to 20 minutes after periods of focused work, is one of the most effective ways to alleviate chronic stress.
Social support in the form of friends, co-workers and relatives can provide emotional support that helps take our minds off stressful events and provide constructive feedback and insights. Schedule time to ‘check in’ with friends, co-workers and relatives and make sure to commit to open dialogue so both give and receive support. If you do not have a social support network, consider joining a mastermind group or find a business peer to build support with.
It is important always to be building emotional fitness, even when times are good, so when times of stress and uncertainty come you are prepared to handle the stress. Practicing mindset and relaxation techniques daily will help you better identify and manage negative emotions.
A work culture that embraces emotional fitness will find that their managers and employees are not left feeling overwhelmed, which will improve retention rates and well-being metrics.
Charlène Gisèle is a certified Coach-Consultant, specialising in burnout prevention and sustainable high-performance.