stress , report

The Data of Stress: From Understanding to Recognition

This week marks Mental Health Awareness week, and with this being hot on the heels of National Stress Awareness month the topic of looking after mind as well as body is quite rightly making the press.

As an organisation that has worked in this arena for the past decade and has physiological data relating to stress and coping levels for over 5000 people in the U.K. it seems a prime time to share some of the data we have collected and some of our thoughts on the topic of stress.

Thought 1 – Understand the word

Whilst greater than 90% of people agree with the statement that stress can sometimes be good for you, why is it that when people are asked to define stress the words they use purely describe the negative side of the word.  Phrases such as ‘An inability to cope’ or ‘Things just become too much’ or ‘Unable to function’ often seem to be used.  Our take on the word is that stress is a stimulus.  Like most stimuli it may (or may not) illicit a response and in broad terms this response could be physical, mental or emotional.  The response could be positive or negative and the response is often reversible.  What we would add is that human beings are quite good at dealing with large stimuli, potentially because they notice it; and that, typically, they are pretty bad at dealing with the submaximal stimuli that often creep underneath the surface and gnaw away at our minds and bodies without us really noticing they are there.  This brings us on to our next thought………….

Thought 2 – Understand yourself

One of the talks that we deliver into businesses is called ‘The Data of Fluffy Stuff and The Battle for Sanity’.  I hope it covers off what it ‘says on the tin’ and one of those key ingredients is data.  We have access to over 1.5 billion data points that look at physiological responses of the UK working population and it never ceases to amaze me how the objective data is often out of sync with people’s perceptions.  By asking people structured questions before the objective data is collected we can demonstrate this.  For example, one of the questions we asked 500 NHS employees was ‘Do you feel you sleep enough?’ 47% of the cohort felt they did not yet when measured close to 75% of people were getting more than 7 hours sleep a night.  Equally when asked ‘Do you do enough physical activity to be healthy?’ 60% of people responded in the affirmative yet when their data was analysed we saw that only 28% of people were achieving what we considered to be a health promoting effect.  Our conclusion here is we need to upskill in our understanding of ourselves and appraise with greater accuracy.

Thought 3 – It all starts with recognition

As mentioned, stress affects us; it can on occasions positively impact our performance, but far too often we do not see the multitude of minor factors that negatively impact our ability to function both physically and mentally.  We could do so much better if we regularly stopped and checked in with ourselves.  You could simply ask how energised, motivated and purposeful you are feeling; you could consider whether you are using negative language (using words such as can’t, wont, don’t, isn’t, etc are a tell tell sign of fatigue); you may notice something physical such as tension in your neck and shoulders or a deterioration in skin health; you may rev the car a bit more aggressively when you start the ignition or push the door shut with greater force; you may find you become less focused and more distracted and I am sure there are many other ways.  The key message here is if you do not stop and think how you are doing then the chances of your subsequent actions being useful may will be a result of instinct or just damn right good luck!

If you would like more information about Optima-life’s new course – Mental Resilience and the Power of EQ click here or call the team on 0207 135 2424 or email

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek #MHAW18 #stress #performance #focus