Getting Along with Stress

2 June 2017

Stress is familiar guest for start-ups trying to cope in the field of innovations, funding and competition. Stress arises when individuals perceive that they are drained or unable to cope with the demands they are exposed to. Especially novel or unpredictable situations often cause stress reactions. When individuals feel that they are losing their sense of control or when they feel that their ego is threatened, these situations are likely to cause stress reaction. Repeated and uninterrupted exposure to experiences like these lead to chronic stress, which is linked to many health related conditions such as anxiety disorder, depression or high blood pressure.

Probably one of the best ways to manage stress is time management. This starts with clarifying one’s values and priorities. You may ask yourself what is important right now and what to concentrate on now. If you can postpone less important matters, free your mind by dedicating a later slot in your calendar to them. You can also ask yourself, whether you are honest to yourself in relation to your life values in your job. Being proactive as opposed reactive in relation to challenges that have to be met helps you to get prepared to cope with stressful situations.

When individuals feel that they are losing their sense of control or when they feel that their ego is threatened, these situations are likely to cause stress reaction.

A useful way in dealing with the workload is to classify your tasks based on their importance and urgency. If something is important and urgent, concentrate on that and do it right away. If something is important but not urgent, schedule a time to do it. Free your mind from those vague and undefined “I have to do this” -feelings by scheduling a time and context to do it. If you are the type of person that is worried about matters during the day and night, it might help you to schedule time for worries as well. It might sound a bit silly but if you mark into your calendar daily “worry time” between 19:00-19:20 you can concentrate on worries then and do others things before and after. If worries come into your mind during other times, you can note them to be handled during your worry time. Have a try!

If you find a given task urgent but not important, you may delegate another person do it on behalf of you. For example, answering certain emails or scheduling timely practical issues are tasks that someone else might be able to it for you. It is also important to note that clear distribution of work tasks helps you to concentrate on your own issues. It is very annoying and draining to ponder if something is your task or not. If there is a disagreement about work tasks, it is really worth discussing the responsibilities of each person in your company. If you find something not urgent and not important, do not do it at all. Passive use of social media, sorting through junk mails or throwing breadcrumbs at your colleague might appear funny but is neither important nor urgent. Having a good working environment and fun moments when working are of course important – for example, doing small exercise spurts with your colleague between working periods can keep your brain active and capable for the next revolutionary, disruptive accomplishment.

Coping with stress can be divided into two different strategies – problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping.

Problem-focused coping aims to target the causes of stress in practical ways. Changing the parameters of the situation, redefining the stressful event and its significance as well as looking for alternative solutions are examples of problem-focused coping. Managing to handle all the deadlines in time is probably the best form of problem-focused coping. As opposed to problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping strives to reduce negative emotions that are associated to stressful situations.

The target of emotion-focused coping is to decrease emotional distress that relates to stressful events. Avoiding stressors or stressful situations is one type of emotion-focused coping strategy. This strategy might be tempting but it is also likely to increase individual’s total stress load when the amount of unfinished stressful tasks pile up. Individuals also try to control or change their emotional responses to stressful events, which can function as an example of a good emotion-focused coping mechanism. For example, counting ten and breathing deep is one way to regulate emotions. Dosing stressful task into bearable and controllable chunks is another example of emotional control. Our Western society has a tradition of viewing emotion and reason as two different modules of human behaviour. In reality, however, it is emotion and its motivational component that also drives our reasoned endeavours. Many start-ups have an idea or a dream that they want to actualize.

Of course, many reasoned and practical challenges are on the way but emotion and motivation are likely to be the driving forces for these practicalities.

Stress is not a bad thing as such. It makes us do important and meaningful actions and keeps us alert when a certain level of autonomous nervous activation is needed. It is said that humans are the only animals that creates their own cage. In prehistoric times, we were occupied by defending ourselves and our families from predators and bringing prey into our caves. When a person has to deal with the basic needs, the causes of stress are somewhat obvious. In the modern Western Civilization, however, our basic needs are not continuously challenged for the most of us, and our stressors rather relate to the human-created social constructions and challenges of modern society. Cognitive demands for the human brain are vast nowadays, compared to generations before us. The continuous flow of information also requires us more efficiently to filter knowledge that we do not need. At best, this filtering enables us to concentrate only on important issues. At worst, we end up in an auto-pilot mode in which we just relate to variable situations reactively.

The best mindset to have in challenging situations is to concentrate on one given important task explicitly.

Plan and schedule ahead as much as possible. Be flexible when needed, but stiff when there is no chance to be flexible. Try not to carry complex processes in your head – visualize them on paper or the wall instead. Block any distractors such as e-mail notifications or mobile devices by silencing them when not needing them. Find a peaceful spot to work in when you need it. Relieve your mind by doing yoga, meditation or mindfulness – not as a performance but as a way to relax and free your mind. Concentrate on living in the current time and place instead of past or future – unless the time machine is the next big innovation of your company.


image_miniMontse Ruiz, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä

Dr. Montse Ruiz received her PhD from the University of Jyväskylä. She works as Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at the Department of Sport Sciences. Her research interests and publications focus on the study of emotions with an emphasis on negative emotions, and their relation with athletic performance. She is currently a member of the Executive Board of Division 12 (Sport Psychology) of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP) where she is responsible for the edition of the division’s bulletin and websites. Polet, Project Researcher, University of Jyväskylä, IMPAct -project (Increasing Motivation for Physical Activity)

Juho’s integrative research on motivation theories and behaviour change interventions provides tools for thinking, as well as practical advice for anyone who is considering a lifestyle change or wants to understand more generally the influences of her own or those of other people. His study helps to understand why New Year’s resolutions are not often succeeded, and what is needed for permanent lifestyle change. Juho collaboration with private sector helps companies to apply this know-how in their own operations, bringing the lifestyle change practices into the daily life of their customers.