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How to turn stress into something positive

Stress can overwhelm you unless you start taking control.

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When you think of stress, what emotions come to mind – positive or negative?

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Many of us relate to stress with negative emotions. Most negative stress originates from issues related to money, career, relationships and health. When faced with stress that we find challenging and overwhelming, it's helpful to get ahead of it before it accumulates. The better we can monitor our daily stress levels and take proactive actions to cope with it, the less our risk for mental health issues.

Not all stress is bad, or needs to be. One positive form of stress is eustress, which motivates and can drive us to overcome challenges, so we can achieve goals, such as earning a university degree or getting a new job.

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, some forms of chronic bad stress, such as workplace harassment, bullying and negative comments or unwarranted statements from a leader, may be recognized under workers' compensation in Ontario. Over time, these kinds of stress can have a negative impact if actions are not taken to prevent mental injury.

But not all forms of stress will be covered under this new chronic mental stress policy. These include job change, termination, demotion, transfer, discipline and changes in working hours or productivity expectations. Therefore, it's beneficial to pay attention to your daily stress load, and act to resolve it before it becomes chronic.

In a recent article, How to manage your stress load, the idea of monitoring your level of stress was introduced. The early findings from a related stress survey with 522 participants found the following:

· 11 per cent fell in the low risk category, suggesting that they're coping well with their life demands and stress.

· 30 per cent fell in the low-to-moderate risk range, suggesting they're doing okay most days coping with stress. However, one category of their life is typically more challenging than they would like.

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· 59 per cent were rated moderate to high risk. This suggests that they are under chronic mental stress, experiencing physical (such as sleep issues), psychological (such as increased anxiety) or behavioural symptoms (such as grinding their teeth).

· The average score was 36 out of 60 for those in the low to moderate risk catogory.

· The three items that had the highest risk score were:

-I'm struggling to keep up with the demands of home and work;

-It feels like my stress level is high each day;

- I struggle to do the kinds of things that can help me manage my stress better (such as physical fitness, meditation, hobbies).

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Awareness

The more we can learn to cope with stress cognitively versus emotionally, the more likely we'll be able to focus on finding a favourable solution. It's better to pay attention to our stress load than to ignore it.

By monitoring our stress load and being honest with ourselves we can act to prevent bad stress from engulfing us. Using the stress load weekly monitor is one way of proactively dealing with the amount of stress you face.

Accountability

If stress load becomes moderate to high, ignoring it won't change it. Taking accountability for what we can control and focusing on that are important first steps. When we can stop and look at bad stress objectively as a challenge to solve, we position ourselves to be proactive.

Action

Finding a resolution to stressful life situations may not always be immediate. It can take some time to get through a divorce or a difficult work situation. Moving past a stressful situation requires a plan and then action.

If you don't think you have the internal resources to find a solution to solve a stress challenge, seeking support from a trusted peer can be helpful. If this doesn't work, seek out professional help through your work employee and family assistance program to uncover some options. The goal is to problem solve and make cognitive rather than emotional decisions that result in re-living stress and leading to a sense of being trapped. We can seldom change what happened to us, but we can control what we do and how we react.

The more we develop our resiliency and coping skills, the more prepared we'll be to offload stress.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

This article supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award. This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at:tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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