Why Avoiding Stress is Bad for You

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Blog post - Head in Sand

We experience stress as a result of adverse events, which cause psychological and physical distress.  However, a recent study sought to explore whether the reverse could also be true.  Could attempts to avoid distress actually lead to more stress? 

The study was carried out with 1,211 late middle-aged individuals, who answered 3 questionnaires  over a 10 year period;  assessing how much they avoided thinking realistically about a problem, or reduced tension by expressing negative feelings rather than dealing with the problem.  They were also questioned about the stresses of their life, like being fired, getting divorced, having too little money for the basics, conflicts with co-workers - 157 different ones!

The study found two strong correlations:  The more avoidance strategies people used, the greater the significant stresses they experienced AND the more depressive symptoms they showed at the 10 year assessment. 

Now, I teach statistics, so I’m always cautious with data.  A relationship between two things doesn’t always mean that one is causing the other.  So it got me thinking more about what these findings could actually mean…

Avoiding the discomfort of conflict may make the situation escalate into something more serious, like getting divorced, or getting fired.  Avoiding the discomfort of stepping up to a challenge might mean missing out on a promotion, and the extra money it brings.  It makes sense that avoidance might be causing extra stresses. 

How readily does your organisation (and its individuals) embrace stress?  Early warning signs of avoidance might be how often people complain about challenges they’re facing, without taking any action; or how many people an issue gets passed between before someone takes ownership.

I’ve supported lots of organisations through culture change, and at the beginning it’s common for most of the energy to go into listing out what’s wrong, before some of that energy starts to get invested into action.  It’s understandable when people are already busy, and it can really slow down a developing culture of Wellbeing.

Left to its own devices, that inertia can take months (or even years) to turn round – for the mindsets and behaviours to really change.  In the noise of the day-to-day priorities, it’s easy for Wellbeing to be a nice-to-have, even when it’s got full commitment from the Leadership team.  But it is possible to get the best of both - to improve performance (productivity, quality customer service….) without driving your people harder, and wellbeing without impacting day-to-day operations… 

Our Well-formance diagnostic is designed to help shape your strategy for improving both.  It explores the six key overlaps between Wellbeing and your Organisation’s performance (including problem-solving, resistance to change and important relationships), highlighting what’s already working to build on, and making comprehensive suggestions for further improvement.  To find out more Get in Touch

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