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How Much Stress is Acceptable?

Updated: Dec 10, 2021


Stress gets a bad rap. This is hardly surprising since it is frequently linked to physical and mental ill-health. This in turn can have a knock-on effect on our quality of life, relationships and even our performance at work.


We define stress as anything that is placing a demand on the body. This can include anxiety, smoking, alcohol, poor sleep, and exercise. Yes, you read that correctly, exercise is a form of stress since it is demanding on the body. To get the full benefit from exercise, we must compensate with rest.


Whilst stress is generally considered bad, it is necessary for our survival and growth. Sometimes it can be stressful to get things we need or want in order for us to flourish e.g. food, accommodation or relationships. We must 'put ourselves out there' to get the things we need or want, for example, interviewing for a job. These efforts are often challenging and stressful, yet necessary.


So, is it possible to measure our stress accurately?


The answer is yes.


There are wellbeing assessment tools available which can track our activities and physiology on a real time basis using biometric data capture. These devices range from sensors in smart watches, smart finger rings and chest-worn devices attached with surgical pads. We favour the latter option for increased accuracy and reporting and we recommend the Firstbeat tool.


How does the wellbeing assessment work?


The device works by tracking heart rate variability, which acts as a type of proxy for how our autonomic nervous system is functioning. After wearing the Firstbeat wellbeing assessment tool for three to five days, users are provided with a comprehensive report which shows their stress, sleep, exercise levels and their fitness score.


We typically spend an hour with each client discussing their report in confidence. Clients are frequently amazed (sometimes shocked!) at the crucial insights they receive about their lifestyle. For example, they may become more fully aware of how little downtime they allow themselves during the working day. They may also see how their anxiety around a work project is affecting their sleep quality.




And the optimum level of stress is….


The Firstbeat philosophy suggests, as a general rule, that we can handle being in ‘stress mode’ for up to 70% of a 24-hour period. This assumes that we are using the other 30% of the day to recover, otherwise we end up with depleted batteries.


Much of the 30% recovery period will be composed of sleep, however, this needs to be good quality sleep to count. With our clients, we also recommend periods of recovery during the daytime. This can occur by simply having good conversations with people we like and trust, pursuing a hobby, reading fiction or meditating. One of the benefits of working from home is that people have more flexibility to schedule these activities into their day once they realise their importance in managing their stress load.


When we experience too much stress for too long, our performance and our health begins to suffer. Therefore, it is a good idea to use a wellbeing assessment tool to help develop resilience to stress. It can be very rewarding to make some lifestyle adjustments and then measure the impact after 3-6 months using the tool.


Wiser Working helps leaders and their teams to reduce stress and build resilience. If you lead a team that is struggling to perform under pressure and you require some support, please contact us at; info@wiser-working.com.