Taking action on stress
I am reliably informed that April is Stress Awareness Month. Increasingly, I have found myself becoming annoyed with these so called ‘raising awareness’ days/weeks/months. I wondered about why this might be, and I realised that they are often accompanied by some kind of challenge or event. I might see a post on social media that says, “I’m doing an egg and spoon race to raise awareness of three-legged blind diabetic donkeys in China,” accompanied by a picture of the aforementioned donkeys, and earnest egg and spoon race training. In my experience, once my awareness is raised, it stops just there. I do not take any further action, apart from to continue to scroll through more content, before stopping in to fill in the latest quiz to reliably tell me which type of potato* I am, or which Disney Princess I am most like.
When I found out it was Stress Awareness Month, I went into ranty mode around my colleagues and said, “Well, that’s all well and good, but I’m sure people who are stressed are already pretty aware that they are stressed. So, what’s the point of raising awareness?” Why do we not address the stressors?
Life is stressful these days. In 2016/2017, 12.5 million days were lost to stress, depression or anxiety in the UK. To quote my favourite singer and songwriter, Dolly Parton:
“Workin' 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin'
Barely gettin' by, it's all takin' and no givin'
They just use your mind and they never give you credit,
It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it
9 to 5, for service and devotion
You would think that I would deserve a fat promotion
Want to move ahead but the boss won't seem to let me”
Dolly Parton, ‘9 to 5’
Once I had got this rant off my chest, my coaching and psychology training came to the forefront of my mind. Awareness need not be about being told or being done to. Awareness can also be understood as a gentle curiosity of the world around us, using our senses. Put another way, the coach and author John Leary-Joyce talks about simply being present and suspending judgement – in essence, not looking for cause and effect relationships, not dwelling on the past, and not thinking about possible future actions and possibilities that might unfold from the present moment.
Once we develop this awareness, it can help inform our thinking and enable us to move to action to address our stressors. If you or your clients are feeling stressed, here are some questions that can help raise some awareness.
- Have we come to rely too much on particular coping mechanisms?
- What gives us enjoyment, accomplishment or connection with others?
- What are we putting up with?
- Are we agreeing to things when we want to say no?
- What is your relationship with stress? Do you avoid it at all costs? Do you seek it out and thrive on pressure?
- What stories do we tell ourselves and how do we make sense of things?
- How often are we saying ‘I ought to’, ‘I should be able to’ and ‘I must’? Listen out for these and question them.
- What assumptions are we making about ourselves and others?
These questions can lead to insightful conversations, and the MBTI assessment can also give us powerful insights into stress. Check this previous blog post where we discuss available resources to help us understand and discover more about stress using the MBTI assessment as a lens.
*Just for the record, I reckon that if such a potato quiz did exist, I am likely to be a baby potato. Yes, I might be a little small in stature (5 ft 4.5 inches), but am versatile and a good accompaniment.
Health and Safety Executive
John Leary-Joyce, 2014, The Fertile Void: Gestalt Coaching at Work. St Albans, Hertfordshire: Academy of Executive Coaching Ltd.