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Support vs solve: how to take effective action

When you think of someone who is stressed, you likely think of a person with too much on their plate – someone who is fighting for time. People who are stressed often say they feel ‘out of their depth’ or like they’re ‘drowning’, giving an effective metaphor for how all-consuming overwhelm feels. It’s all bad, and most people who feel stressed would like to remove their to-do lists with immediate effect.

 

But does stress always have to be bad?


Introducing: eustress


At its core, stress is defined as our response to being under pressure – when we experience something new or unexpected. Our ‘fight or flight’ response activates, and our immune system jumps into action to help us handle the situation. That’s why it can feel so intense.

 

I’m not denying the fact that too much ‘bad’ stress is not a good thing. Extended periods stuck in the fight or flight cycle can certainly be highly detrimental, causing high blood sugar levels, insomnia, stomach problems and an increased risk of poor mental health, amongst other conditions.

 

But what if we could harness this bodily response for good? Experts are now recognising the idea of ‘eustress’ – the same reaction, but for a good reason, like a first date, or moving house.

 

You may be familiar with the saying that there’s no growth in the comfort zone, and eustress supports that. Big life events or new experiences can be stressful, but they bring a type of excitement and anticipation that means you’re pushing yourself to live a fuller and more exciting life.

 

It can be automatic to assume you want everything in your life to be easy and straightforward. However, aiming for a life without any stress can mean limiting yourself, especially in a high-performance professional setting.

 

The solution to stress is not to completely disconnect. Making room for things that energise and excite you, even if they’re good stress, can give you a renewed sense of purpose.



“A problem well stated is half solved”


Now that we’ve discussed eustress, let’s move on to bad stress. This can be rife in the workplace, because we’re being asked to do too much, or the team is over capacity, or you individually struggle with saying no (if it’s the latter, read my blog on the subject).

 

But sometimes, we feel stressed because we don’t truly understand the problem that we’re trying to tackle. This can happen in general life too: you convince yourself a task is going to take hours, and so put it off time and time again, only to discover it can be done in 20 minutes. Misunderstanding your existing commitments not only removes room for taking on new tasks, but it can leave you feel unnecessarily overwhelmed.

 

“A problem well stated is half solved” is an adage that is attributed to Charles Kettering of General Motors. Einstein is also famously meant to have said that if he had an hour to save the world, he’d spend 59 minutes defining the problem and a minute solving it. Both these sayings highlight the importance of understanding the issue before you try to tackle it.

 

You can apply the same theory to your stressful to-do list. For every item on there, ask yourself:

 

●      How long will this task realistically take?

●      When is the task due? Is there any movement on this?

●      Do I need input from others on this task? If so, how long do I need to give them?

●      Why does the task matter?

●      What would have to happen for me to mark this task as complete?

●      If I have too much on my to-do list, can any parts of this task be outsourced or delegated?

 

This might feel extreme, but by fully understanding the scope of the task, you can feel more in control and understand the size of the problem you’re facing. You may even find that you get halfway to a solution by actually breaking the task down.

 

Doing this regularly can also help you identify if you’re regularly taking on tasks that aren’t part of your job description, or if colleagues are continuously expanding task briefs. If that’s true, it’s time for an honest conversation with those concerned.


Taking action = helping yourself with ‘the soundboard’


It can be hard when working at or beyond capacity to ask for help both for the asker and the askee. We don’t want to burden others or admit that we’re not on top of things.

Here’s where support vs solve can come in, plus ‘the soundboard’.


You can be supportive of a friend or colleague without needing to take on or solve their problem (which they probably don’t expect you to do anyway). It’s all too tempting to go into ‘problem solve’ mode and offer unsolicited advice & solutions.


To make the ask & responsibility clearer, reframe the interaction from asking for help to asking for a soundboard or a sense check – it feels very different for both parties.

“I’m wrestling with an issue/project/problem. It would really help if you could be a soundboard and help me lay it all out. Help me play my perspective on it – is that ok?”


I’d suggest that early and regular soundboarding can and should happen way before problems reach crisis levels. It also means that the person you’re asking for support doesn’t need to be expert in what you’re wrestling with, which widens the net…

 

Take care,

James



 

Find yourself getting stressed more often than not?


Let’s talk. Together, we can work out where your boundaries need to go in order to allow you to thrive, not just survive.

 

 

07855 315 753

 

in: James Pickles (connect with me for my thoughts on performing, well (comma intentional), the role of leaders in promoting rest, and how employee wellbeing is more important than ever, despite the current economic pressures…)



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