This might seem a strange question for someone who spends her days creating workplaces that are happier and healthier places to be! But could it be by standing our normal perceptions about stress on its head we might just be able to come up with something different? The evidence shows that creating culture change in the workplace through a systematic, layered approach to workplace wellbeing is the most effective, sustainable way forward. Recent evidence also shows that the return on investment of workplace health interventions is over £4 for each £1 spent – in some cases almost £10 for each £1 spent! Sadly many businesses are less interested in prevention and more about sticking a plaster on a gaping wound and walking away!

But what if you are in a work culture where there are many signs that something is wrong – such as staff leaving before they have had time to settle in, disputes between people, a long hours culture, or colleagues who fear disclosing their experience of stress and mental health because of a negative response from your manager? Perhaps you too could list many other signs that peoples’ wellbeing are suffering in such a culture. Maybe you are one of those people for whom this is your reality every single day. And maybe every day nothing changes despite your or others attempts to speak out about it!
Well if you are one of these people then this article aims to give you some tips about how to stand stress on its head!!

We are all familiar with what it feels like to experience stress – the pounding heart, the rapid breathing. These are strong feelings designed to make us want to avoid feeling like this – to run away. In addition to a rapid heartbeat, the major blood vessels constrict in response to stress. However the ongoing impact of chronic stress results in a more permanent narrowing of the blood vessels and so increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

But what if you cannot change the culture of your workplace and cannot change the things that are causing you stress? What can you do? Well research has shown that those who are taught change their response to stress – so to not view those physiological changes as stressful or worrying – will still have the rapid heart rate, for example, but don’t have the vessel constriction that others who fear stress do. This lowers the harmful impact of stress to the low levels of those who aren’t experiencing any stress. So instead of fearing their pounding heart they are taught to see as positive that their body is giving them the strength and energy to act, and the rapid breathing as sending extra oxygen to the brain. So amazingly enough, a belief about stress can change the physiological responses you experience to being helpful or harmful depending on your perception.

Our bodies have other mechanisms for helping us turn stress on its head. Oxytocin is one of them. Better known as the Love Hormone – oxytocin’s main role is to create empathy and crave social interaction. Released by the pituitary gland when stressed this clever hormone tells us to reach out to others who are distressed and try and help them or seek comfort from our others who care about us when we are finding things tough. Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps counteract the negative impact of stress. This need to help others and to seek solace with our loved ones is a strong instinct which many in our world today find themselves disconnected from. So talking to others when things are tough really does make a difference – by enabling oxytocin to release and counteract the negative impact of stress on our bodies. A win-win situation!

Although your boss may be ignoring the business evidence that investing in workplace wellbeing gives a financial pay back this is something that you have the control to do. Celebrating instead of fearing how your body reacts to stress and reaching out to others to share your feelings can make a big difference and give you control were maybe you felt you had none! And this makes not just a big difference to your mental wellbeing but that of others around you. Try it and see!

Adelle Shaw-Flach works with forward thinking leaders to improve mental wellbeing and reduce financial waste creating workplace cultures where both people and businesses can thrive.

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