Nicky Thomas is one of our coaches and is trained in our Mental Toughness measures. During this important time with chaos all around us, it more important than ever to look at your stress levels and triggers. Here she talks about the science and what to do about it. She can be found here:
If you’d like to contact Nicky or the Wellbeing and Performance Company please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Importance of Stress
With many studies and research completed it is generally accepted that stress is associated with physiological changes and a range of psychological behaviours and changes at the subjective emotional level.
Stress has a physical impact on the body often with raised blood pressure, sweating, increased heart rate and a dry mouth. It can also be displayed as aggression but equally by being withdrawn.
The work on Mental toughness looks at the individual’s perspective of stress as a causal factor. Stressors exist but they don’t always give rise to stressed people.
Early research suggested a direct and linear relationship between arousal and performance, (Hull 1943, 1951) Drive theory suggesting an increase in stress increased performance. More recent research shows a more inverted U shape relationship.
Easterbrook 1959 suggested that too high arousal narrows the focus like a torch light beam, but can miss both irrelevant and relevant cues.
In 1988 Fazey and Hardy suggested that an overload of stress had the reverse effect of decreasing performance and even when the stress was then reduced the same athlete/person did not perform as well as before. This was the catastrophe theory.
IZOF and flow theories suggest an individual has their own zone of optimal state anxiety within which they perform at their own peak. And this differs from each individual. The optimal performance state, known as the “flow” state, is one where the performance of the task undertaken is effortless and almost mystical. Like achieving a personal best when you just went out for an easy run.
Recent models of stress put the individual at the centre of the process, the major goal has been to discover individual differences which can impact the process of stress. An example if a person who has high trait anxiety will perceive events as being more threatening than people with low trait anxiety.
Mental Toughness is possibly the most important individual difference in the stressor-strain relationship!
Stress is a complex phenomenon that has a number of definitions, MTQ has adopted the following:
“Stress is an adaptive response, mediated by individual characteristics and/or a psychological process, which is a consequence of any external action, situation or event that places special physical or psychological demands on a person. “
3 main themes are
- Stress is not necessarily bad and is unavoidable
- Individuals react differently to the same stressors
- Stress can be physically or psychologically damaging
Karasek provides a good understanding of organizational stress, he concentrates on 2 things
- Jobs demands (these cause stress) – work fast, lots to do, targets, conflicting demands
- Job decision latitude (these help individuals deal with stress) the workers authority to make decisions and use a variety of skills
An ideal role involves high demands but gives a degree of autonomy and activities that use a variety of skills. However, it is inevitable that stress will be unavoidable and seems to be the culture within many organisations.
Stressors exist and they come from many sources including our lives and people close to us, including family, work and social groups. They can also come from our environment, be it work or home, places where we learn and play. And, of course, stressors can arise from the general world in which we live! Very much pertinent to the time we are living with and dealing with Covid19 and the impact on so many people.
It’s important to note the stressors we put upon ourselves or are put on by others to do well, achieve targets, run a personal best or complete a piece of work. If we can deal with these stressors then we are more likely to achieve peak performance.
Key factors that influence how we respond to stressors:
- Age: young and old seem better at dealing with it than the middle aged!
- Gender – Women appear better able- they talk about and that helps
- Social support- family, friends help deal with it
- Fitness and exercise
- Mental Toughness
Sources of stress
- Individual – from within, conflict with others, role uncertainty, role overlapping, control and decision making
- Group level- team cohesion, behaviour of the leader, conflict, dissent within the group
- Organizational – Culture structure and processes, existence and the manner delivered, technology, pace of change and competitive pressures and values
- Extra Organizational – life, work, family, leisure, economy (key influencer) travel time, society
- Psychological dips, low satisfaction, burn out, depression, poor self esteem
- Behavioural – Absenteeism, staff turn-over, poor performance, alcohol substance abuse
- Cognitive – Poor decision making, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, mental health issues.
- Physiological -Deterioration in the immune system, high blood pressure, serious illness
However, some are great at dealing with all these stressors and have coping strategies and some even achieve peak performance!
Our performance can vary!
From highly productive to ineffective, these are attributed to these factors, what do you bring to the task, your motivation and interest, what is your pay off, how you interact with others, and most of all what is going on inside your head, your state of mind.