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How to make stress work in your favor?

Noortje de Lange
November 11, 2021
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“How can I minimize the amount of stress in my life?”. This is one of the main questions we get asked from participants of our OneWave Program. We all want to live a happy and healthy life, and stress doesn’t really fit into that picture. That is why many people try to eliminate stress out of their lives. But is that even possible? And are we happier if we live a stress-free life? In this blog post we take a closer look at stress, and we will show you that stress can also be beneficial. We will also provide you with some tips on how you can utilize stress for what it is intended for.

What is stress?
Stress is a normal physical reaction, causing a higher level of alertness. It is triggered by physical or mental factors, like playing sports, having a difficult conversation with your child or manager, or wanting to perform well at work. So, stress is actually needed to perform well! So why is it that we view stress solely as something negative?

Short-term versus long-term stress
To answer this question, we should make a distinction between short-term versus long-term stress. Short-term stress is often quite useful, for example when you need to perform certain tasks; it raises the level of alertness and accelerates your thinking. An appropriate level of stress improves your performance and concentration. It can also provide a boost in energy! So short-term stress is helpful. Long-term stress, however, is a completely different story. When you experience stress over a prolonged period of time, the increased level of alertness becomes your body’s default mode; stress is no longer a helpful aid to cope with challenges, but takes over all of your actions. Experiencing long-term stress can actually decrease your IQ by 15 points. This could lead to tunnel vision, no longer being able to accurately self-reflect, becoming short-tempered and having a chaotic mind.

Start to utilize the feeling of stress for what it is actually intended for
The challenge is to utilize stress for what it is actually intended for: use the increased level of alertness to your advantage. Take a moment to reflect: what is something that causes you stress, and how does it make you feel? Does your mind become restless, or do you get an uneasy feeling in your stomach? By identifying this, you become better at recognizing stress, which then allows you to actually use it to your advantage, instead of letting it rule the show. It is important to make sure you take time to recharge after a stressful event. This doesn’t have to take up a lot of time; taking a few moments to reflect on the experience, going for a walk, or talking to a colleague are all great ways to decrease your stress levels. If you are able to respond to stress in a positive way for a sustained period of time, it will increase your resilience, which will also improve your performance in the long run.

Properly recharging is a matter of developing the right skills
Recharging your energy on a regular basis is important, not only to compensate the daily sensory overload, but also to cope with tougher challenges in life. The more you take on, the more moments you require to recharge your energy to compensate for the higher levels of stress. What happens when you recharge? Recharging means that there is a lower level of activity in your body; this happens during sleep or when you are relaxing. In these moments, your body can rest and repair on a physical, mental and emotional level. Are you good at recharging your body? Or do you find it challenging to slow down? Not to worry! Properly recharging is a matter of developing the right skills. Which means that you can actually develop and improve these skills. At Onewave we strive to assist as many people as possible to achieve this!

More moments to recharge in four simple steps
What could you do to properly recharge? Getting good quality sleep, sufficient relaxation, being physically fit, and having a healthy diet are ways you can recharge after physical effort. Healthy relationships, enjoying a hobby, humor, and a positive outlook on life are also a great counterbalance to stress. All bodies are unique, so the solution will be different for everyone. A first step can be to become aware of the ways in which you like to recharge. What does relaxation look like for you? What gives you energy? The next step is to apply these things to your life. But make sure to do it one step at a time! We often see people not succeed, because they try to do too much at once. Our advice: please be realistic, especially during these already challenging times. It’s better to pick just one habit, and really focus on incorporating that into your routine, instead of trying to change ten new things at once. The third step is sharing your new habit or intention with your loved ones, so they can support you. Not only by encouraging you, but also by providing you time and space. The final step is: celebrate your wins! The positive energy will help you to keep up the good work and to create your next win! And make sure to reflect and evaluate what has and what hasn’t worked for you, so you know how to keep moving forward.

The 80/20 rule

As long as you make sure to take time to properly recharge, stress has its place in a happy and healthy life! The aforementioned steps can definitely help you achieve this, although we are very aware at Onewave that it can be a bit challenging to put it into practice. Especially during these challenging times, with a heightened sense of worry and anxiety. So, keep in mind: you don’t have to be perfect! Be kind to yourself! A great rule of thumb is to try and make healthy choices 80% of the time. And remember that it all begins with a small step!

About the author:

Noortje de Lange is a partner at Onewave. She has a background in Business Administration and Psychology. Her fascination for people and their happiness at work, led her to choose a career in change management, research, HR and coaching. She fulfilled various roles at Berenschot, Achmea and Effectory. “A healthy energy balance is the main driver of health and performance.” At Onewave she utilizes her passion for this subject to teach people and organizations how to become more energized in a sustainable way.