Are excellence in performance and wellbeing mutually exclusive or can they be achieved together?
Gaynor Parkin, our MD, recently discussed this question at the NZHR conference. We had some great questions from the audience and on social media following her presentation, and thought it was worth sharing them.
  1. Elevated stress narrows our ability to see the wood for the trees. What about good stress?

Our experience of stress is influenced by our mindset. If we think we have the resources to manage, then a particular stress can be viewed as positive and can motivate us into action, such as problem solving, planning or completing tasks. It is when we perceive that the demands are likely to exceed our ability to cope that stress can become a problem.  In this situation, our brain perceives a threat and our survival fight or flight response kicks in, narrowing our cognitive focus and our ability to see the big picture.The level of pressure that turns useful or good stress into unhelpful stress depends on the individual’s perception and this can also be different in different contexts.Tip: Notice your own stress responses and especially your early warning signs that indicate the balance is being tipped. This way you can take proactive action before the full fight or flight response kicks in and you can’t see the big picture.

  1. I’m at work, I’m feeling stressed, what can I do right now to reduce my stress levels?
Breathe! One of the most efficient and quick ways to reduce that feeling of stress on the spot is diaphragmatic breathing, often referred to as belly or abdomen breathing. Taking slow and deep breaths into your diaphragm immediately reduces your experience of stress by lowering your heart rate, stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system to promote calmness and quietness, and improving concentration. We are very much in the habit of breathing high in our chest so consciously practicing deeper slower breaths can feel odd at first but with practice will become more familiar.Tip: Try to practice before you are stressed so that when those feelings come up you can use belly breathing more automatically, as with practice it becomes a habit and therefore more of a default setting.
  1. What is one tool that I can use to enhance my wellbeing and performance at the same time?
Do things that help you experience more positive emotion. More experiences of joy, hope, satisfaction, feeling connected and appreciated have been shown to improve both our physical and mental wellbeing. Positive emotions have an “undo” effect on negative emotions and help our bodies recover from stress more quickly. Positive emotions also boost performance, as you are more likely to “think outside of the box”, prioritise, find solutions to difficult problems, think more creatively, and view situations or events as challenges rather than threats. See the work of Barbara Fredrickson who is one of the leading researchers in this field, see here.
  1. Is mindfulness just another craze or is there something to it?
There is a strong body of research evidence to support Mindfulness practice. Click here for a useful summary.
Mindfulness is another highly effective strategy to improve wellbeing and performance. Regular practice will help reduce stress, boost your immune system, and improve your concentration and attention, among other benefits. There are numerous ways we can build mindfulness into our everyday lives, so have a go and try out a mindfulness exercise.