Rachel Yarcony is the CEO and Founder of myAir Smart Wellness, a stress management platform of personalised smart-food and insights.
I always thought that chronic stress was dangerous for my health. During my previous role at a leading pharmaceutical corporation, however, I discovered new methods and research regarding stress resilience. The American Psychological Association defines stress resilience as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” In other words, it's how you respond to stress in a healthy and positive way.
Perception is everything. Every day, we all face life's challenges, and it's up to us to respond to and cope with them. These challenges can be stressful. On the one hand, they can negatively impact our physical and mental health. On the other hand, however, a certain amount of stress, when managed properly, can be good and create positivity and productivity.
During my previous few years as an entrepreneur, I studied stress and discovered that my attitude toward stress should be completely different. We should view stress the same way we might view cholesterol—it can be good or bad for our bodies. Similarly, certain types of stress can benefit our health.
The Hormesis Phenomenon
While learning to deal with stress in my own life, I began to understand that stress levels can be visualized in a curve graph. On the far left end of the curve, little to no stress is present. I noticed that when I was underexposed to stress, I had a tendency to be bored and not motivated because I had no challenges to face—good or bad. On the far right end of the curve is high stress. These elevated stress levels can lead to burnout, exhaustion and a feeling of danger. When I was overexposed to stress, I began seeing the negative impacts on my health.
Then I learned about hormetic stress: the optimal amount of exposure to stress you need to increase your productivity. Hormetic stress comes in many different forms and can be found all around us. Stress heat from saunas is an example of physical stress and has been linked to increased life span and lower risk of neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases. Cognitive stress has been linked to improved memory, balance and muscle strength in older adults.
The benefits of hormetic stress are unlimited. When you are able to find this optimum stress zone, you will be able to boost your body’s and mind’s functioning capabilities while helping build your tolerance and resilience to stress.
So, what is your optimum stress zone?
At the peak of the stress levels curve graph is where people will reach their optimal performance. This optimal stress zone is where eustress sets in. You begin to break out of your comfort zone in this range, and your body starts releasing hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Reaching your optimal stress zone periodically throughout the day places you in your optimal mental state for productivity.
As we know, one size doesn’t fit all; this zone may be different for everyone, but your peak performance can be achieved once the zone is met.
Hormesis And Stress Management As Leaders' Secret Tools
As leaders, executives and employees, we all face burnout from work, and productivity declines in turn, along with our health. The American Institute of Stress reports that “83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress.” Learning how you can use stress to make yourself stronger will help turn this from a danger to an advantage in your workplace and daily life.
Today, we have access to hassle-free, engaging and practical tools that empower professionals to take control of their wellness. Smartwatches have the ability to monitor your stress, breathing, heart rate and much more. This powerful data gives you a glimpse into your physical stress.
Pairing this with cognitive assessments can give a full understanding of the effects of stress on your mind and body. For me, as a manager, these assessments starts with measurements and KPIs. Compare your work methodology to your wellness methodology—as management guru Peter Drucker taught us, "If you measure it, you can manage it." Consider taking self-assessment tests to measure how stress affects you and gain insights about yourself—for example, how your stress changes throughout the day, how to make the most of your sleep, which days you're most stressed and which days you're not.
Our perspective regarding stress is another valuable tool. "Reframing" is an important technique to reduce stress. This method involves taking a problem and looking at it in a different, more positive way. For example, say you have a difficult work project that requires extra time and research. Instead of getting stressed about how much time it will take, try to reframe your thoughts and look at it as an opportunity to learn something new.
When we speak about the narrative we have regarding stress, having a fixed or growth narrative can make all the difference in stress resilience. A fixed narrative mindset keeps us from learning and experiencing new challenges. It will often create more intense and negative stress responses. When we have a growth narrative mindset, however, we see ways to improve and are better able to change and adapt to our surroundings. Our stress resilience improves, and we become stronger.
Using hormesis has helped me improve my stress tolerance and resilience. As a former corporate executive, I believe corporations have the responsibility to empower their own and their employees' stress resilience and offer them new tools to manage stress properly. A stress-free workplace should be the future for all.