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8 Research-Backed Strategies to Make Stress Work for You

  1. 8 Research-Backed Strategies to Make Stress Work for You By Sarah Greenberg Lead Coach © 2017 BetterUp, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
  2. Stress Versus Overwhelm • Stress can motivate. • It can help us muster up strength and energy to take on worthy challenges. • It provides the activation we need to conquer a project, or rock that talk.
  3. Stress Versus Overwhelm • Overwhelm can freeze us in our tracks. • Overwhelm is the enemy of flow, creativity, and productivity. • It puts a strain on relationships and can get in the way of your capacity for effective leadership.
  4. Success usually encompasses stretching ourselves beyond our current capacity, and navigating unfamiliar, challenging terrain.
  5. Unfortunately, that can cause a lot of stress and overwhelm.
  6. “Preventing overwhelm” and “thriving in chaos” are unfortunately two skills we’re not usually taught.
  7. But stress is an inevitable part of life.
  8. While it’s not possible to completely remove stress from our lives, there are practical, actionable, and research-based tactics for “getting good at stress,” and preventing overwhelm.
  9. Calm is a skill, not a permanent state.
  10. One reason we may feel stress or overwhelm in the workplace is that our success can feel tied to our overall sense of survival and identity.
  11. 58% of Americans identified work as a significant source of stress in their lives. Source: The American Psychological Association
  12. Studies show that about half of all work absence is due to work-related stress disorders.
  13. “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
  14. 8 strategies for learning to surf life’s inevitable waves
  15. Take your temperature According to author and psychologist Daniel Goleman, all effective leaders have one trait in common: emotional intelligence.
  16. A good place to start is to ask yourself a few times per day, “How am I doing?” When teaching children to practice “tuning in,” child psychologists often give them the visual of a thermometer. The lower part, level 1, is cool and calm. The red part, level ten, is hot, stressed, and probably overwhelmed.
  17. Manage your energy Energy management means working to balance that which depletes you with that which enlivens you, so that at the end of each day, week, or year, you end up with a surplus, or a balance, not a deficit.
  18. Conduct an energy audit For the next three days, write down all your tasks at work and beyond, and note whether each one drains you or fills your cup. Include both intentional activities and unintentional diversions.
  19. After three days, review your balance sheet Are there any changes you can make to do less of what drains or more of what enlivens you? Any surplus you build over time will be a critical asset when encountering challenges.
  20. Protect your time Often, the most clear takeaway from an energy audit is the need to protect your time in order to achieve your goals.
  21. Start with one or two hour blocks where you commit to turning off all notifications, and have a clear, achievable, and important goal in mind for what you wish to accomplish. As a leader, encourage your team to also carve out “focus blocks” in their calendars, too.
  22. Micro-change The average US worker takes about half of their paid vacation time, leaving the rest on the table.
  23. In her recent book, Micro-Resilience, Bonnie St. John shares how the simplest of techniques, such as smelling holiday spices, and drinking water, can go a long way toward managing stress and optimizing your productivity, hour by hour.
  24. Try the “reversi” technique Write down a limitation or an obstacle you’re currently facing on one side of a note card. Now flip the card over and write the opposite of what you wrote on the front.
  25. Cultivate Purpose Purpose is the feeling that your work is meaningful and contributes to a mission that goes beyond yourself. It’s one of the four characteristics that researcher and professor, Angela Duckworth, sees in individuals who are high in Grit.
  26. To hone your sense of purpose, consider what it is about your work that drives you. When your sense of purpose is high, capture it in writing.
  27. Feeling low on purpose? Focus on the people that are positively impacted by your work in ways large and small. Notice if there are any small shifts you can make to amplify your positive impact.
  28. Stop making stress the enemy The difference between those who thrive in the face of stress and those who falter can be attributed to whether or not you view stress as a harmful or an inevitable part of life.
  29. One way to reframe your relationship with stress is to write down the two or three most challenging experiences of your life. Choose ones that were tough, but that you’ve successfully moved through.
  30. Next, write down the gifts that came from each challenge, such as new skills, stronger personal connections, or greater resilience.
  31. What you’re left with is a meaningful reminder that what doesn’t kill us, can indeed make us stronger.
  32. Stay connected The neutral or positive impact of stress only applies when you have strong social connections.
  33. Relationships literally protect us from the ill effects of stress.
  34. Do it for your team Cultivating your capacity to stay centered amidst chaos has positive ripple effects on your team, and all those close to you.
  35. That’s because of what researchers call “emotional contagion.”
  36. A great analogy is the experience of turbulence on a plane. Imagine how it feels when the pilot is visibly nervous versus cool and calm, and how this affects your mindset.
  37. Being centered is not a permanent trait, but rather an actively cultivated state.
  38. A professional coach can work with individuals to develop techniques to lower stress and turn it into a strength, not a weakness. To learn more, reach out to BetterUp at
  39. This presentation was based on a blog post written by Sarah Greenberg, Lead Coach at BetterUp. Sarah is a Harvard-educated coach and licensed psychotherapist who has worked with leaders from top organizations, first responders in crisis situations, and even teens beating all odds to complete their education in rural Africa. She has witnessed the most extraordinary human resilience in the most extreme circumstances.