“Do you ever get pushback when you advise people to reduce their stress? Doesn’t that cut into productivity and make you less competitive?”
I got this question once and it really surprised me — the negative impacts of stress on health and happiness are so obvious to me at this point that it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone might NOT think reducing stress was a good idea.
The person asking was a senior partner at a law firm (for my lawyer friends, I’m sure this tracks), so he had spent his career immersed in a culture where extreme pressure from above is a rite of passage and long hours of working nights and weekends are the norm.
I thought about how to answer him in a helpful way.
Here was someone who had survived and thrived in his high pressure job, and now I was telling him that reducing stress was essential to showing up as your best self at work. I could see how it seemed antithetical.
I myself thrive under just enough pressure – I’m partial to a deadline or taking on a bit more than I can easily handle to help push me to get things done.
But the stress I’m referring to is not just a helpful level of light pressure that keeps us in momentum and motivated.
Chronic stress that produces anxiety, negatively impacts sleep, causes you to feel depressed over time, interferes with your ability to focus, weakens your immune system and makes you susceptible to getting sick — that is the stress we need to guard against.
And while that level of stress can come on all at once – a sudden deadline, an intensive project or a family emergency — more often it results from stress accumulating over time and going unmanaged day after day.
If you don’t have the right habits and tools to recognize, process and release stress on a regular basis, you can find yourself depleted and dealing with much bigger consequences.
So my answer for my lawyer friend was that people have different tolerances when it comes to stress. It’s up to each of us to know ourselves, our body’s signals, and our limits, and to prioritize taking care of our self and our sanity when we need to.
And company cultures that encourage employees to take care of their stress levels and mental health (instead of constantly pushing them beyond their limits) will have employees with more energy, better focus and happier mindsets — which means a healthier, more productive workforce in the long run.