We have all heard about stress and most, if not all of us, have suffered varying degrees of stress at some time in our lives.

However, how many people are truly aware of the severe, debilitating effects that stress may cause both to individuals and also to the overall resilience of any team or organisation facing a crisis.

Stress is “an automatic biological response, our body has in order to increase our chance of survival” and is often triggered when we face: a possible threat, something new or, something unexpected.

We all, to varying degrees (on an individual basis) become used to a level of stress in our lives – examples may be bad traffic on the way to work, a work deadline to meet, tensions at home – there are innumerable examples. Very often, these “basic” levels of stress can, by means of a biological reaction in our bodies, spur us on to either, greater efforts or, levels of achievement and, over a period of time, the actual feelings of stress generated by such events can decrease. What is important to realize, however, is that stress can be “cumulative” – very similar to stretching a rubber band – a little bit of stretch and all is fine – but slowly keep on stretching that rubber band and we can reach a serious stage where there is a very fine line between either, being under incredible stress for long periods of time or, snapping.

As stress levels increase, we can become more excitable, nervous, anxious or irritable. In turn, these symptoms can reduce our abilities to work effectively with other people, execute precise, controlled skills or make fine judgments. Certainly, traits that we do not want to see or experience when our team, organisation or company face or are in the midst of a crisis.

If increasing levels of personal stress are not recognised by ourselves and/or those we work with, then “burnout” can occur – essentially “I cannot cope any more”. In more severe cases, especially those left untreated, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” may set in and not manifest itself (in often devastating fashion) for days, months or even years and, can be triggered by a sight, sound, smell or memory .

There are too many signs and symptoms of stress to describe in this Blog but one main one is “frequent displays of erratic, abnormal, unusual behaviour patterns linked with an increasing inability to concentrate or perform required tasks in an effective manner”. If in times of increased stress, you recognise such signs in yourself or other fellow workers, it may be time for a “break”.

It is helpful if a person has learned “coping mechanisms” (to deal with increasing stress) such as quiet time out listening to music, going for a run or a swim, talking to other people etc. If you know what your “coping mechanisms” are then you should tell your fellow workers/team members – your own “quiet time out” being interrupted by someone who is always enquiring about your well being may just add to the stress as opposed to reduce it!

It is vital to provide assistance to those who are obviously under high levels of stress and are either, close to or have already reached “burnout” levels. At the lower end of the spectrum, such assistance may be a “team talk” but at the higher and top end of the spectrum, professional counseling may be required – There is NO shame in seeking advice or assistance for stress.

I include a chapter on Stress in all Business Continuity and Contingency Plans that I produce as a means of helping to teach the often severe effects of stress, together with the signs/symptoms of increasing stress levels. Importantly, I also hope to reinforce the message that “People are your best Asset”.

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July 2020
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