So, are you practising safe stress?

So, are you practising safe stress?

Over the past 16 months, readers of SHEQ MANAGEMENT have been asked to take the special Vitals stress test. How did you fare?

Back in June last year we posed the question: Are you practicing safe stress? Since then, this series of columns has attempted to unbundle the often incorrectly used term “stress” by highlighting positive and negative types of stress and how it affects our physiology.

We have also explored the concept of “stressors” and why something that causes you stress may not necessarily do so for someone else.

But, for me the results – collated from the readers who took the time to access the confidential online Vitals stress self-awareness tool – have been fascinating. We are too often forced to make do with international statistics. Stress is, however, such a global epidemic that effortlessly transcends cultural and socio-economic groupings, that we are now building our own database of worrying case studies.

The accompanying chart shows the two most negative responses per statement in the survey. For example, in response to “I experience unexplained chest pains”, 23 percent of the readers answered “all the time” or “frequently”. This chart is yet another example of a picture painting a thousand words – take a moment to absorb the numbers and what they represent. I’m anticipating a few raised eyebrows and the odd muttered expletive.

The degree of human suffering is evident – our organisations are made up of humans … Still think stress management isn’t a hard bottom-line issue?

Stress is not a badge of honour. It’s not clever, or big, or “manly” to be stressed. It’s just killing you and your company. Recognise where you sit on the stress/burnout continuum and take action.

Remaining in control or retaking control of your stress is simple, but it takes consistent effort and is therefore not always easy. You need to prioritise – self-awareness and reflection lie at the core of living a more balanced life.

Here is a summary of the stress management process:

1. Self-awareness

Identify the physical, cognitive, behavioural and emotional warning lights on your personal dashboard.

2. Identify personal stressors

What turns you on and off? One person’s stressor is another’s energiser.

3. Decide on an appropriate stress management strategy

Avoid, adapt, alter or accept.

4. Build a practical action plan

Good intentions without positive forward momentum are pointless.

5. Build resilience

Help yourself to cope with the curve balls that life will continue to throw
at you:

• Holy trinity: sleep, nutrition, exercise; and

• “Me time”: have fun and learn to log-off.

6. Go back to step 1

To paraphrase eminent clinical psychologist Dr Colinda Linde from her book Get the balance right: “put yourself into the equation”. Most of us invest in our financial wealth (pension, unit trusts, property and so on) and we all invest in our appearance (make-up, clothes, jewellery, hair, and even cars and cellphones) – but how much are you investing in yourself? How often does your name appear on your daily “to do list”?

So, are you practising safe stress?


Richard Hawkey, author of Life Less Lived and founder of equilibriumsolutions, spent many years pounding the corporate treadmill until literally falling off; diagnosed with burnout and clinical depression. Now, Hawkey has combined his general management and leadership experience with lessons learnt from mismanaging stress, to become a self-styled anti-stress evangelist. He specialises in identifying stress in oneself and others; the personal and professional impacts; and how one can break out of the negative spiral and emerge vigorous and vital to realise quantifiable benefits.

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