Session 3: How can I recognise stress in myself early, so I can prevent it from taking over my life?
Like me, I’m sure you’re now feeling more confident recognising what stress is, understanding how it affects our bodies and how we can reprogramme our thinking towards it after the last 2 sessions. Now, while you’re still cooped up during the virus, you can delve into episode 3 of the Resilient Asia Challenge which tackles how we can rid ourselves of pesky stressors from the get-go.
Once again, we have Sally Leonard, Eric Toh and Raatha Ganesh hosting us with a jam-packed episode full of expert advice from Ryan Lim and the results of Deiric McCann’s ‘Emotional Culture Index’ survey.
Beginning with Ryan, we ask how significant is culture when it comes to managing stress?
Working in Hong Kong, I can vouch for the fact it is commonplace these days to work in a multicultural, international environment with colleagues hailing from opposite ends of the globe. So it makes sense when Ryan explains how important it is to be aware of cultural diversity when it comes to managing stress. He notes most people tend to generalise ‘East versus West’ when it comes to cultural differences within offices, but Ryan says it is more individualised than this. From an Asian context, in Singapore for example, Singaporeans are referred to as ‘punctual and pushy’ and ‘a nation built by engineers, not storytellers’, while the Japanese are considered a closed-off culture when it comes to expressing emotions. The majority are familiar with the generalised concept of ‘saving face’ in Asian cultures, but Ryan explains another major commonality which is the idea of ‘compliance vs independence’ and that individual feelings should be ‘repressed, not expressed’ which of course directly impacts stress levels. This means that ultimately, Asian cultures don’t express their emotions by default and as a consequence often don’t recognise their own emotions or know how to deal with them. So, behind the face of that calm and collected colleague sitting in front of you, might be a ball of frustration and anxiety, dying for a heart-to-heart.
Which leads to the burning question…
How can we recognise and prevent stress early on?
A lot of us make the mistake of letting the ‘what ifs?’ dictate our lives rather than living in the moment. Maybe it’s ‘what if I speak up and don’t get that promotion?’ or ‘what if I ask for help and are viewed as weak?’. This is where Ryan’s thinking channels that of last week’s contributor Deiric McCann, when he says we need to shut down the ‘what ifs’ at the onset. Even though you might want to bawl your eyes out in frustration at the time, Ryan believes the stressful situations we face are ultimately for personal growth and we are better off viewing them as experiences that shape who we are and not be-all and end-all.
While you’re probably aware of some general characteristics in the office you should give a wide berth to, Ryan says awareness is key and introduces us to some types of people we are likely to encounter in organisations that we should emotionally prepare ourselves for. The first type he refers to as ‘Black holes’ who shut down completely, are stony-faced and won’t give any feedback which make situations emotionally frustrating and awkward. The second type are called ‘The Punishers’ who are likely to cause ‘collateral damage’ as they come out with guns blazing and this type can incur damage both physically and psychologically (and make you want to hide under the nearest desk). Then there are ‘Reactors’ who keep their emotions up their sleeves. Don’t give up hope though, there are also positive types such as ‘Eternal optimists’ who no matter what can always see the light at the end of the tunnel along with the ‘Stoics’ who are the peaceful, rational ones (you’d likely sidle up to during tough times).
Ryan says we need to recognise our reactions to stress so we don’t get pushed to our limits without realising. Nobody wants to be ‘that guy’ who threw the laptop out the window or cracked during the team meeting. Personally, Ryan says he knows he’s reached his limit when he tends to forget things. In order to relieve his stress, he turns to the tried and true relief of his gaming console or watches a Korean drama. He recommends inserting yourself into a feel-good situation e.g. becoming the hero of your video game or watching an upbeat movie.
Regardless of which types of people we are surrounded by or define ourselves as, Ryan says we can use stress as a key motivator. Nothing feels as good as proving somebody’s doubts about you wrong with your success, right?! In his experiences, Ryan has channeled stress and negativity created by others into something constructive to prove them wrong. He also says when he feels heavy emotions like anger creeping up, he turns to physical exercise like running to exert that energy and push himself athletically.
If you’re lucky enough to have a great friend you can rely on, he suggests making them your ‘emotional buddy’ who you can vent to and use to keep your sanity in check. They can become your reference point and give you that metaphorical slap to get your perspective back.
As a leader of a team, Ryan creates psychological safety for his team members through the consequences of speaking up. He goes by the mantra of ‘listen first, speak last’. He says this helps team members to articulate their feelings on the matter rather than simply falling in line with him. A silent room full of judgment and hierarchy is pretty intimidating, so he rewards people publicly who dare to speak up respectfully and voice their ideas.
We can get a quick insight into the differences between high-performance workplaces and low-performance workplaces by looking at the results of the ‘Emotional Cultural Index’ survey that Deiric McCann touched on in last week’s episode.
Remember, The Emotional Cultural Index is…
A simple tool that looks at types of pleasant and unpleasant feelings we experience in a work environment and the frequency with which we feel them. The findings showed that when we experience pleasant feelings, we are obviously more likely to engage deeply, be more collaborative and see a boost in our productivity. On the flip side, when we experience unpleasant feelings we tend to experience a ‘narrow and limiting effect’ which results in poorer performance (think of overwhelming frustration and a desire to hide under your desk).
What do the results tell us then? The results were depicted on a spidergram as shown below, with a rating from 0–7 for the ‘current state’, ‘expected state’, and ‘ideal state’. The results for ‘current state’ showed that for pleasant feelings such as being ‘valued, productive, empowered, informed and happy’ respondents sat around the 4–5 point mark. While for unpleasant feelings such as being ‘exhausted, mistreated, disorganised, stressed and anxious’ people sat at 2.9–4.4 mark. While the results from the ‘current state’ don’t seem too depressing on the whole, it’s when we compare them to people’s ‘desired state’ that it’s obvious people are aiming for much higher satisfaction.
With that in mind, let’s all take Ryan’s advice and let go of what we can’t control and channel the energy created by your stressors to do good for yourself or others during these challenging times!
If you would like an Emotional Culture Index (ECI) report for your own organisation, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.