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Helpful Stress vs. Harmful Stress

We know that a little bit of stress is good for us. It motivates us, it helps us to meet deadlines and inspires us to strive for our goals. When we don’t have enough stress we can feel bored and inactive. But when we have too much stree we can feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

It can be hard to find the right balance in this hectic and unpredictable world we live in.

Recently when I presented to the Chief Operating Officers’ and the Human Resources professionals at the Australian Council for International Development, 85% of them were either at their tipping points, had too much stress or were in the harmful stress category.

Of course, these disturbing statistics are not surprising considering they have been on the frontline of their organisations over the last few years, putting everyone else first and not being able to prioritise themselves.

In fact last year, a workplace report by global analytics and advice firm, Gallup, found 48% of Australians reported high levels of stress at work, making them the second most stressed-out workers in the world.

Since this has been reported, we have had more interest rate rises, redundancies, natural disasters and generally more stress across the board.

Being aware of when we move through the stages of stress is important so we can identify when it is time to take some action, so we don’t end up at breaking point.

Here are the five stages of stress to be aware of:


1. Too Little Stress
When we have too little stress, we are often bored, our energy and motivation tends to dwindle, and we are left feeling unengaged and uninspired.

Action: Explore new interests
Use this phase to explore other work interests you've always wanted to pursue. Engaging in new skills can stimulate your mind and keep you feeling inspired and engaged.


2. Helpful Stress
Helpful stress means we are motivated and in flow. This is the perfect ‘stress state’ because our performance and creativity is at a peak, which means we can easily propel ourselves forward towards achieving our goals with a heightened sense of purpose.

Action: Celebrate small wins
Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements along the way. Recognising your progress boosts your sense of accomplishment and reinforces your motivation.


3. Tipping Point
When we have reached our tipping point, it is like we are just holding on with our fingertips and we become aware that one more challenge is likely to tip us over the edge.

Action: Set boundaries
Learn to say no to additional commitments when you're already at your limit. Setting boundaries helps you prevent overextending yourself and reaching the tipping point.


4. Too Much Stress
Too much stress causes exhaustion and to become overwhelmed, which can lead to reduced cognitive functioning, poor decision-making and physical and emotional burnout.

Action: Delegate and simplify
Identify tasks that can be delegated or shared with others to reduce your workload. Simplifying your expectations can help alleviate feelings of overwhelm.


5. Harmful Stress
When stress becomes harmful it is characterised by anxiety, panic, breakdowns and burnout. This can have severe consequences on our mental and physical wellbeing, often requiring intervention and recovery strategies to restore our sense of self.

Action: Seek professional help
If stress reaches harmful levels, don't hesitate to reach out to mental health professionals for guidance and support.


It’s important to acknowledge that we don’t have control over all the stressful things that happen to us. All we can do is recognise the stages and proactively do whatever we can to minimise the chances of unraveling even further.

As a keynote speaker and professional development presenter, I share easy to implement strategies on how to tolerate our tough times better so we can bend rather than break when life’s challenges become too much.

If you would like to have a conversation with me about the strategies I share on stage, in workplaces or via virtual masterclasses, please reach out.

To read more blogs related to this topic, click here... human resourcesmental healthprofessional developmentskill building

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During this session you will learn:

  1. To map out your own response to work stress and identify the physical, behavioural and performance warning signs before breaking down.
  2. How to harness your freeze, flight and fight responses to get more done in less time.
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