Stress is the epidemic of our time. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work recently reported that 22% of employees in Ireland experience stress at work “always” or “most of the time”.  This is the third highest in Europe.  At one of my recent corporate ‘From Stress to Success’ workshops, I asked the audience if they were surprised by the figure. One said yes. Everyone else said no. There were more than 25 in the room.

A certain amount and type of stress is healthy. It motivates us to be and do better. It drives us to focus, work hard, make improvements, solve problems and complete things. However other types of stress have no benefit. If you want to achieve more in life, it is helpful to understand the different flavors and minimize toxic stress.

Varieties of stress: 

  1. Positive stress: This can take the form of a deadline, an exam or taking on a new challenge at work or pushing yourself to do something you really want to do like running a marathon or even opening a business.  It encourages you to grow and be and do better.
  2. Self-created toxic stress: This arises from the litany of negative thoughts we think about ourselves and others. The inner critic loves to judge, complain and blame. Self-inflicted toxic stress can also be created by not getting enough sleep, not drinking enough water, eating too much sugar, over-indulging in alcohol, or spending too much time on screens. There are so many things that stress us when taken in too high a dosage. It is up to each of us to regulate our thoughts and our intake of whatever we are consuming so that we can enjoy the wonderful things the world has to offer without ‘over-stressing’.
  3. There is also the toxic stress that others / the world creates. A certain amount of this is going to happen. People will push your buttons. They will say things to challenge you. Sometimes people are unkind and unhelpful. Others may irritate you unknowingly.  There will be misunderstandings. Work-load and deadlines can seem too much.  There will be one too many problems on your plate. We often perceive what is going on outside of us as the problem. For the most part, it is how we respond internally to externalities that determines the outcome and how much stress we take from a situation.

Here are 5 ways to reduce unhealthy stress

  1. Meditate daily. Meditation and mindfulness are great ways to de-stress and train the mind to focus. When we can focus at will and on positive goals, we don’t take on unhealthy stress.
  2. Assess all areas of your life. What are the stresses in your environment? What are the stresses related to how you spend your time and with whom? Are they supporting a happy healthy life that enables you to be your best? If not, think about changing things.  Declutter. Get rid of things that are holding you back. Spend more time with people that encourage you to grow.
  3. Look at your consumption patterns. Is what you are consuming or not consuming causing you toxic stress? Assess, make changes and find a pattern that works best for you.
  4. Face your fears. While facing them may cause discomfort, not facing them will cause even more stress (toxic) in the long-run.
  5. Assess yourself at the end of each day. Look at what stressed you and why. Learn from it and work to minimize the toxic stress so that you have more space and time to fully be who you want to be and live the life you want to live.