09 Dec, 2020
‘This Is A Stress Response’ - Why We Behave The Way We Do and How To Tackle It
This informal CPD article on ‘This Is A Stress Response’ – Why We Behave The Way We Do and How To Tackle It was provided by Lianne Weaver of Beam Development and Training, a provider of CPD accredited courses designed to help employers and employees take responsibility for their wellbeing.
We’re about to head into a festive period like no other. The Covid-19 pandemic has already turned most of our lives upside down, so we’ve already had to cope with new levels of stress this year.
Did you know that stress can manifest itself in several different ways – and that these are all normal responses? Would you know how to recognise the different signs of stress in yourself and others around you, whether at work or at home?
Stress is a hard-wired safety mechanism.
When we are stressed the part of our brains called the limbic region receives a signal. Neuroscientists say that this is our most primitive part of the brain. Essentially, we are still dealing with the same hardware and programming that our cave dwelling ancestors will have worked with. The principal concern of this primitive part of the brain is for your own safety and survival.
Back then of course our physical safety was under daily threat. This may not be the case today – we are not at risk of encountering a sabre-tooth tiger on our way to work. Instead, we are far more likely to be exposed to things which are emotionally threatening. But our brains can’t tell the difference – so the response is exactly the same, whatever the perceived threat.
And when faced with that threat, with our limbic region triggered, we start to exhibit one or more of The Four Fs of Stress.
The four Fs of stress.
- FREEZE – This is one of the most common responses to stress – we freeze in the hope that the danger goes away. We might recognise this today as procrastinating.
- FLIGHT – We may have the urge to run away from the source of stress. Today, this might take the form of taking the day off, avoiding calls from clients or switching off your emails.
- FIGHT – We might feel there is no escape and this might lead us to argue with family, or be short-tempered with colleagues, clients or work contacts.
- FAWN – This might be a surprising one, but I think it is probably the most common response to stress because it is the most socially acceptable. In primitive times if we were faced with someone bigger or stronger than us we would have known it was pointless to fight, so we learned to fawn. Today we might call this ‘people pleasing’.
Controlling stress when we recognise it.
Recognising that your behaviour is in fact a response to stress is a good first step. Doing this engages the prefrontal cortex – the rational part of the brain. There are also some actions we can take to help to calm ourselves.
- 1) Take a deep breath. When we become stressed our breathing is likely to become short, rapid and shallow. This triggers the limbic region and starts to increase stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Changing the way you breathe can reduce this impact and allow your brain to move into the rest and digest response.
Try this simple exercise throughout the day:
- Take in a slow deep breath through the nose for the count of 6
- Hold it for the count of 2
- Slowly release for the count of 8
- Repeat at least 6 times.
- 2) “I am safe” – as simple as it may sound studies have found that when we tell ourselves we are safe we calm the stress response. Silently, in your head, repeat “I am safe” whenever you feel stress increasing.
- 3) Talk. Talking to someone trusted can help you get perspective of your worries. This could be a trusted friend, family member, colleague or a professional.
With the challenges of the pandemic set to continue into 2021 now is an important time for employers to assess and perhaps increase the resources they offer to their teams to help them recognise, accept and know how to deal with stress.
We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Beam Development and Training, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.