Have you had a stressful week? Your answer to that question may depend on the type of person you are.
At Deloitte we use Business Chemistry to understand each other’s working style preferences so that we can accomplish more together. And when trying to get things done with others, especially those with different styles, it’s important to understand how they respond to stress. Our research with more than 40,000 individuals has shown that the four Business Chemistry types experience stress differently. Guardians, who value stability, feel stressed more often than their opposite type, Pioneers, who value possibilities. Integrators, who value connections, are more stressed than their opposite, Drivers, who value challenge. We’ve also found that the types use different methods for coping with stress.
I just happen to be a Guardian, and in line with our research, I feel stressed quite often. But I can’t afford to let it paralyze me—I’ve got stuff to do! So I typically tackle stress by asking myself a series of questions, which might help you too in your own efforts to cope.
What is at stake?
We experience stress when we perceive a threat to something we care about. And because we don’t always differentiate between big threats and little threats, many of us walk around in a state of heightened stress much of the time. When I’m feeling stressed, I take a step back and ask myself, What is actually being threatened and is my stress level commensurate with how much I care about it? Let’s say I’m worried about a mistake I made at work, which we’ve found to be the most universally stressful event of those we ask about in our research. To cope with the stress, I’d consider whether my job is actually at stake (usually not) or whether I’m worried an error might reveal to the world that I’m actually not perfect (sigh). If I’m stressed in more personal realms—say I can’t figure out how to attend both of my kids’ simultaneously occurring sports events—I’d consider whether anyone will really suffer from my absence, or perhaps they’ll be mildly disappointed, or possibly they won’t notice at all.
Of course sometimes the stakes are actually quite high, and the feeling of stress is justified, but taking a moment to consider what’s really at stake helps me move past the lesser threats so I can catch a breath in between the really stressful times.
What can I do about it?
Let’s say I’m feeling stressed out about finishing a blog post I agreed to write (ahem). What can I do about it? Well for one thing, I can sit down and write! For the majority of people in our research, and for Drivers in particular, jumping in and getting started is a popular strategy for managing stress. Even if I only write part of the post in that first sitting, my stress level will likely plummet, knowing I’m on my way.
Or, if I can’t start right now, I might turn to the Guardian’s specialty, planning. I could block time on my calendar for next week: An hour for idea generation on Monday, time to write a (probably terrible) draft on Tuesday, an hour or two for serious writing on Wednesday, and a final polish on Thursday (with Friday serving as an emergency reserve, because I’m a Guardian after all 🙂). Just seeing the allotted time on my calendar can calm me right down.
What’s the good news?
When I fail, as I sometimes do, to find a solution that banishes stress, I borrow a strategy from the Pioneers’ playbook; they favor cognitive coping strategies, like reframing. I ask myself, what’s the good news here? Because there’s often some good news in a stressful situation if you go looking. If I’m stressed about those sports events I occasionally miss, I might focus on the fact that my kids are happy and healthy and involved in positive activities, and that they still want their mom hanging around. If I’m feeling stressed about a blog post I agreed to, I could focus on the fact that my job provides me with the opportunity to do what I love, and the means to widely publish my writing, which I consider a privilege.
Or, I might put my focus where Integrators often do and ask myself how my efforts during a stressful time will benefit others. Knowing that my hard work both helps my colleagues succeed and also allows me to provide for my family makes the stress feel worth it. And research shows that focusing on such positive thoughts can even make the stress less harmful.
Is this what I want to do?
But suppose I’ve agreed to write a new blog post each week and I repeatedly feel stressed in a way I don’t like. Or maybe my whole family is involved in so many activities that running from one to the next makes us all miserable. Then it’s time to ask some bigger questions: Why am I doing this? Is the payoff worth it? Should I stop? Real life often involves doing things we don’t want to do, but it’s easy to get caught up in our busyness and forget that we often have control over what’s happening—that we usually have choices. If my job or my personal life is leading me to chronically feel bad, it’s time for some serious soul-searching. Is this how I want to live my life? What can I change?
We can all flex and stretch outside our comfort zones, but Business Chemistry suggests that the conditions under which individual people really thrive can be quite varied. If you’re feeling stressed too often, maybe it’s time to consider whether you’re in an environment where you thrive, and if not, how you might find one.