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How can we manage stress so that we perform at our best?

How can we manage stress so that we perform at our best?

In last week’s column, I wrote about the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world we live in. Given that reality, it is safe to say that stress is here to stay. Our challenge is to learn to manage our environment so that stressors can be reduced and we need to learn to manage ourselves so that our resilience to stress can be increased.

“Stress” seems to be very topical at the moment. Today, I completed Discovery Vitality assessments on related to mental wellbeing. There were assessments measuring my psychological well-being, stressors, social support and resilience. Last week, I facilitated a very successful half-day workshop on exactly this topic. I’d like to share some of what we discussed. 

There are a large number of working definitions of stress but the one that makes the most sense to me is that stress is “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilise. This definition helps us understand why people react to life experiences with varying degrees of stress; our experience of stress is dependent on our perceptions, on how we look at the world.

Stress is not necessarily a bad thing; it can drive us to achieve more than we otherwise would. Think about the personal trainer driving you to complete that final set of push-ups or the attention you applied in order to meet that deadline. The problem occurs when we become fatigued, when our bodies start to manifest physical and cognitive disturbances. You may experience chronic headaches, inability to sleep, poor concentration. These can all be symptoms of lowered resilience to stress.

You can manage stress in a number of different ways; some will suit your personality and lifestyle better than others. See what works for you:


In the stress management workshop, we experience a 12-minute guided mediation to aid relaxation. It takes less than 1% of the hours available to us in a day and yet always has a profound effect on those who participate fully.

Identify how you spend your time and what stresses you out:

Much of our personal stress comes from poor time management. We are disorganised, we leave things until the last minute and we don’t focus on high impact activities all the time.

Many authors advocate the use of a time log, which is a two-week record of how you spend your time. It is also used to identify trends in when you feel stressed and what caused those feelings. I’ve tried it and was horrified at how much time I wasted on low-value activities like scouring interesting but unhelpful websites (think Pinterest, Upworthy...the list is endless)

Redefine VUCA in a way that the acronym means vision, understanding, clarity and agility. These are the Holy Grail in building resilience to stress. Intentional living, knowing what we what and how we are going to get there, allows us to filter much of the noise that inevitably stresses us out. We won’t be distracted by other people’s agendas, by irrelevant information or by low value activities such as meetings that we don’t need to attend.

Learn to be assertive, to say “no” or push back in a fair, reasonable and positive manner. I use a Bill of Rights regarding assertiveness that challenges us to rethink much of what we were taught as children e.g. “you need to please everyone” and “it is wrong to put your needs ahead of others”. It’s absolutely OK to give yourself some space, to put boundaries in place that allow you to live your best life.

Everybody needs somebody. Invest some energy in building a strong support network. Find people to help you unwind, exercise, prioritise etc. We cannot ward off the effects of stress without this support; eventually we will get tired, we will become less effective and then we will get sick.

If you would like more information regarding our stress management workshops, email [email protected]