The Question You Don't Need To Ask About Stress

stress Mar 15, 2021

When I go into organisations, there’s one question that always comes up. I call it the million-pound question because if I charged a pound for every time I heard it I’d be a millionaire. The one thing directors, heads of HR and senior managers all want to know is: what stress-reducing tools and strategies can we offer our people?

Understandably, they’re desperate for an answer. Senior leaders and managers know that safety at work, which encompasses stress, is a legal requirement. Many will also be familiar with the HSE’s Management Standards . And increasingly organisations are embracing wellness at work by offering things like lunchtime walks, yoga classes and relaxation sessions.

There is a tremendous willingness to help – but also a feeling of helplessness and the heavy burden of responsibility. Organisations don’t know where to turn. They’ve followed the guidelines, they’ve developed evidence plans and strategies – but they still haven’t solved the problem.


Stress doesn’t come in one shape or size – and nor do humans. Situations differ, people differ. A stressful incident can affect us all in different ways to different degrees. Stress comes in many guises, too – the employee with a sick partner or dealing with family issues at home, for example.

That means you could have all the stress-reducing strategies in the world, but they may work for one employee but not another. They might have some, limited – or no – effect on your organisation as a whole.

So if stress isn’t one-dimensional, what’s the answer?


The answer is to forget everything you think you know about stress. Well… most of it!

As hard as it is to realise, stress isn’t directly caused by external circumstances such as a difficult customer or a colleague disagreement. Stress, as we’re now discovering, is an ‘inner’ process that’s generated within our minds.

People have been fascinated with the human mind for centuries. At first, we relied on individual observation or self-reflection to understand how the mind works. Today, modern neuroscience is making it possible to observe and objectively measure how our mental states manifest. And this science shows that our emotional states are constructed and not triggered and the whole world we perceive comes as much from the inside-out, as from the outside-in.


This new understanding has important implications for the way we deal with stress. And, it nudges us to look in a different direction. Rather than trying to remedy stress by applying strategies, we need to look at this ‘inner’ process to find out how our stressful experiences are generated in the first place.

Knowing how stress works can help us to nip a lot of stress in the bud. It creates a completely new relationship with stressful experiences – one that leads to more psychological wellbeing and balance. It explains why stress is not one-dimensional but comes in different shapes and forms. We can then see that actually we don’t even need to rely on strategies to reduce stress.

And the real bonus is that we can learn to turn our stress into success.


What does this mean for your organisation?

It means that you don’t have to seek out strategies for tackling stress. That merely moves you further away from the solution. The solution is learning how stress really works – because when you do, you’ll realise that you don’t actually need to manage stress.

It means that reducing stress in your workplace is attainable.

It means the power to manage stress lies within your own people.

When your employees are educated about the mind-stress connection and how stress really works, the results can be truly empowering. And you’ll never have to ask about stress-reducing tools and strategies again.

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