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Aggravation or Tribulation?

Why you may not be as stressed as you think you are.

how do we know if we are truly stressed, or simply caught up in a series of frustrations?”

Part 1 of a series by Joanna Gibb

An artistry of juggling family, work, and individual day-to-day commitments, Twenty-first Century life has become a veritable circus under the big-top of expectations and culture of progress that has engulfed modern society. It provokes little wonder that the number of reported stress-related ailments have increased exponentially to such an extent that 39% of all work-related illnesses and subsequent absences are associated with stress.

Due to there being an infinite combination of personalities, lifestyles, and levels of stress, it became imperative for The Resilience Programme to recognise and begin incorporating multiple stress-relieving techniques to suit all potential client groupings into their workshops. From two minute ‘grounding’ exercises aimed to calm even the busiest of worker during a fast-paced period of high pressure, to longer exercises designed to be cultivated over time and implicated as part of an individual’s weekly ritual, The Resilience Programme aims to tailor techniques so as to be seen as welcome breaks as opposed to ‘necessary evils’.

Robbins' six human psychological needs

This gathering of techniques began with understanding the underlying common causes of stress and frustration in human beings. By studying ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’, Tony Robbins identified six human psychological needs:

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Love and Connection
  • Growth
  • Contribution.

Whilst each of these qualities is important in its own right, it is understood that as individuals we all have one in particular that we find our motives most influenced by; as a topic of further interest, additional information can be found in the archive section of The Resilience Programme’s website.

The overarching theory of the six psychological needs posits that were an individual to secure an attribute that meets these  needs then they would experience fulfilment; a kind of amplified state of homeostatic comfort. Humans rely on homeostasis both in a biological and emotional sense, anything that shifts that state creates stress be it our sense of emotional equilibrium or in regard to our physical being.

Frustration or stress?

There is however an important distinction to be made with regard to this delicate balance: how do we know if we are truly stressed, or simply caught up in a series of frustrations? Frustration can be defined as the emotion we feel when we are unable to fulfil a goal, either through our own lapse or through a sequence of events not of our own making; burning toast for instance due to a distracting phone call would qualify as a frustration as opposed to a genuine stressor. Stress however manifests as the ‘wear and tear’ effect on the body after a constant succession of triggers that release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream; a high-paced job for instance would qualify as a stressor due to the amount of potential provocations throughout the day (see the biology of stress in side panel).

Due to the science of stress-management residing in the realms of psychology departments it has long been considered ‘taboo’ to broach the topic of stress in the workplace and its ability to be physically injurious. However with its roots firmly fixed in biological origins, the public censure and ‘stiff-upper-lip’ culture is slowly losing its grip on the British public. By giving an individual tangible evidence that their stress and furthermore their symptoms are real and have a biological cause, it in some way begins to qualify their acceptance of the issue at hand thus opening the gateway for treatment and further pre-emptive solutions to future issues.

sources of stress - from boredom to overload

Twenty-first Century stress is the spectre of a thousand forms, from one end of the spectrum dominated by the pressures of feeling ‘overloaded’, to the opposite that manifests as boredom or lack of opportunity, each symptom with its own parasitic effect on the body that drains physical and emotional resources. At a Resilience Programme workshop, participants were asked to identify their primary sources of stress; most of which were work-based and ranged from coping during periods of being short-staffed, to simply bearing the weight of responsibility.

The workplace is a prime example of when the distinction between frustration and stress is crucial to the managing the latter. A demanding co-worker for example could either be interpreted as an aggravation or a genuine source of continued stress; the distinction would depend on the person. For instance the individual’s attitude to said co-worker, shy and forgiving as opposed to humorous yet firm in terms or boundaries, the overall effect on the individual’s ability to fulfil his/her work duties, and the amount of support readily available to staff members such as a human resources department.

The importance in defining a situation as ‘stressor or frustration’ comes from the simple fact that were we to treat all triggers as stressful incidents our bodies would react as such and burnout would be reached much quicker. However were an individual to learn to distinguish between the two, levels of the two stress hormones would have ample chance to return to pre-trigger levels before the next genuine stressor thus making burnout much less likely if used in accordance with similar stress management techniques.

hassles and uplifts

However two topics were brought to the group’s attention by two participants respectively, that were collectively agreed to have the potential to be viewed as either ‘hassles or uplifts’ depending on the passing state of the individual: children and relationships. This is due to the fact that one’s perspective on such topics, regardless of its current state, can be swayed either way by underlying stresses from financial troubles to issues in the workplace. For this reason, investing in emotional and mental resilience practices even in small ways can create a ripple effect towards a more peaceful, relaxed sense of self: the means to personal resilience need not be radical.

being your own Ringmaster

Making this transition from momentum’s stooge, going from order to order, each underlined in quadruplicate “must get done TODAY”, to Ringmaster in our individual concentric-circuses though it may require more than simply doffing a top hat and tails each morning as inspiration, without illusion or trickery it can be accomplished through simple techniques practiced and taught by the team at The Resilience Programme. From recognising a frustration masquerading as a stressor, to coping with a regular trigger and reducing its influence on your physical and mental health, you’ll run your own show from now on.

The following article instalment will deal with how stress manifests at either end of the scale, from physiological to the psychological impacts, with subsequent instalments giving a taste of Resilience Programme tools, techniques, and strategies for coping with all of the aforementioned.


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