Wellbeing and stress - friends or foe?

Hannah Graham, WoWWizard! of business development, ponders whether the language we use around stress and wellbeing is always helpful and whether there is such a thing as 'Optimal Stress'

Wellbeing and stress - friends or foe?

Between my last role and working at The WoWW! Business, I had a career break.  It was very different to my maternity leaves, the only break from working that I'd had previously.  I had more time for my children, more time for life admin and theoretically more time for me.  I felt like I had given myself time to 'de-stress', I went to the gym and had tennis lessons (ongoing and much improvement still to be had) and enjoyed cooking for the family, rather than feeling it was another job on the list of jobs in my day.  But it did get to a point where I kept hearing that old adage in my head, 'If you need something done, ask a busy person'.  It transpires that I function best under an optimal amount of stress, which surprisingly turns out not to be zero stress.

It got me thinking about the word stress.  It's like the word wellbeing, we all say it and use it often in our everyday conversations but what we usually mean when we're talking about 'being stressed' is too much, not optimal, pressure.

Having a structure to my day, aka kids back to school, makes me a calmer and more organised person.  Working in a team, achieving outcomes that benefit the group, having fun and human, adult, interaction in my day, are all motivators to make me a more productive and effective person, I think.  All things I get from a work environment.   However, having experienced too much stress in previous work environments, how would I ensure that my stress levels stayed in the optimal zone in my new role?

I would highly recommend reading 'Burnout - Solve Your Stress Cycle' by Emily and Amelia Nagoski.  It covers so much I don't want to fall into the category they summarise each chapter with, the tl;dr (too long, didn't read) bit, giving you a bite sized summary of the points covered.  But it gave me and my partner and others who've we've recommended it to, a new understanding and vocabulary around acknowledging and processing stress cycles, the human giver syndrome and the bikini industrial complex, to name a few of the subjects they explain in the book contributing to the modern-day disease of burnout.

It taught me that if stress is not recognised and processed then it can lead to burnout.  To recognise and acknowledge stress we need a shared definition of too much and optimal stress, which equates to wellbeing and the language used in discussions, to help us do this.  The 5 ways of wellbeing offers a great structure to base a common lexicon and definition of wellbeing.

It gave me much food for thought when considering how those positive work experiences of structures and interactions switch from optimal, stimulating and fun, to overload, becoming tiring and overwhelming.  How do you acknowledge and deal with those challenges?

When The WoWW! Business runs a wellbeing colleague survey to create our weather report, we use a minus 5 to plus 5 grading to allow people to express where they are in terms of the 5 ways of wellbeing.  This, along with free text which we use to create heat maps of feelings, allows companies to review their current corporate levels of wellbeing.  Unusually, we include organisational, personal and financial questions, addressing the whole person and their wellbeing, not just their wellbeing as it relates to their role/ manager/employer.

I believe that this is how we should we approaching wellbeing going forward, like I mentioned earlier, we all use the word wellbeing, but it can mean such different things to different people.  Using the 5 ways of wellbeing we introduce a structure to talk about wellbeing, at work but also with friends and family.  The WoWW! Business believes that a employer cannot make someone a well being but they can create an environment where individuals can pursue wellbeing, their way.  By introducing a common definition of the 5 ways of wellbeing, you are offering a language structure that is the same for everyone, whether they may be a manager of a large team or a graduate new joiner.  You are encouraging them to practice making some time in their day to review their wellbeing activites/ outcomes.  You are providing managers with a language and structure to help them connect with their colleagues and identify when they may be in the susceptible or unwell- being zone and offers ways to support improving their wellbeing, in a holistic way, acknowledging that personal and financial wellbeing has a massive influence over how someone may feel about their wellbeing at work.

We might use the phrase ‘That isn’t helping my wellbeing’ in the same way we would say ‘I am so stressed’.  So recognising stress in one challenge, as is recognising and defining wellbeing.  It is easy when we have a language to talk about it.  The 5 ways enables us to articulate and discuss our wellbeing.

We can't avoid stress and we shouldn't, we need it to improve and grow, it's a mandatory part of the human experience and whilst we all move into the unwell and susceptible zones throughout our lives we believe that practicing the 5ways to wellbeing can help you move back into the well being zone, with more understanding of yourself and those around you.

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