Mindset over matter – the key to dealing with stress is not to reduce it, but to thrive on it, writes Rebecca Howard, neuro linguistic psychotherapist and chief executive of ShinyMind
In today’s business environment, stress is an everyday feature, drilled into us through the media and our day-to-day language. As a result, it’s the subject of constant head-scratching about the burden it places on staff, and how we can reduce it.
And it is certainly having an impact as the latest UK figures from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) in 2014/2015 illustrate, with stress accounting for 43 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health.
Existing wellbeing programmes don’t tackle the thinking that has got us into the place of feeling non-resilient and stressed. There is a need to get upstream of wellbeing and work on our mindset and our thinking.
Acknowledging there is no fixed gate between work and home and seeing it as a revolving door creates a holistic and enduring ‘whole person’ mindset solution, allowing people to understand themselves and their relationships.
So what if we could look at this problem differently? What if we could accept that while we can’t completely eradicate stress from the ever-changing and competing demands of the modern workplace, it is within our power to fundamentally change our relationship with it?
Investing in mindset
Forward-thinking leaders are now investing in the minds of their staff, providing positive stress mindset interventions to help them feel more in control, empowered, focused and engaged in times of adversity or pressure. This new mindset approach is long-lasting and reduces anxiety, lessens fatigue and improves performance.
Research from the University of Wisconsin shows that a more positive mindset approach to stress, rather than traditional ‘stress management’ or wellbeing tools, can improve resilience and personal effectiveness.
A survey of almost 30,000 adults over eight years found that those reporting high stress levels, and who believed stress was harmful, were 43 per cent more likely to die. In contrast, those reporting high stress levels, but who didn’t believe it was bad for their health, had the lowest risk of death – even lower than those reporting minor stress levels.
The research demonstrates that it is our beliefs and mindset which shape our response to a situation. So if we can help employees change their response, they will feel happier, more in control and will perform better.
This mindset of resilience can be delivered via three gear-changing belief shifts about stress, which give staff the ‘Knack’: Knowledge and Notice, Accept and Connect, Kickstart.
This three-stage psychotherapeutic process allows them to recognise stress, notice its impact, accept its presence and connect with its motivation – and then begin their positive response.
The mindset intervention does not reduce stress, but works by transforming how people think about it and experience it. On average, 96 per cent of participants report improvement in their understanding of issues at work, while 100 per cent find benefits in managing their stress levels.
This mindset intervention session is based on research which showed how a Fortune 500 organisation encouraged people to take a more positive view of stress.
Within the company 229 middle-aged employees signed up to ‘stress management training’. As well as researching the harm and benefits of stress, they learnt to adopt a positive mindset by personal reflection on stressful times, including those when it had been helpful.
Three weeks after the session, 100 per cent of participants reported benefits including less anxiety, greater self-awareness and a more positive mindset. In addition they felt an increased ability to deal with stress, and a greater inclination to see its positive aspects, having previously seen it only as negative. At work they reported improvements in focus, creativity and performance, benefits that were maintained six weeks after the intervention.
None of these benefits could be explained by a reduction in the amount of stress the employees experienced. Rather than reducing stress, this mindset intervention simply transformed their response.