Nathalie wrote so beautifully in her blog post “We need more ‘I want’ less ‘I have to'” about freedom of choice, how we react to stress and that it takes practice to distinguish positive from negative stress. And this is where my train of thought comes in, because I too have learned something about the power of choice and practice. But from the beginning.
For weeks my husband has been telling me that he has so much to do that he doesn’t know when to do it all, so he works on Saturday mornings. Annoyed, he then tells me that he has already wasted another hour in a pointless meeting and now has even less time to do all his to-dos. I told him about Nathalie’s approach and he now tries the approach. But as we all know, change takes time. And when he does manage it, he notices a change, but the issue of useless meetings remains. Because, let’s face it, stress also comes from the outside world interfering in our lives. Fatou, our podcast guest in episode 05 (Sorry, only in German), realised exactly that for herself – as soon as she started working as a self-employed person and her working day was less determined by team meetings and company rules, her big stress factor disappeared. For her, stress was being restricted in the free management of her time. Once she was able to live according to her needs and values, gaining resources instead of giving them away, she was more relaxed. More stress-free.
Stress and thePrinciple of Resource Conservation
My husband is also such a freedom-loving person and being able to organise his time as he wishes is very important to him. If his time is determined by others, then it must at least be meaningful – a short-term result or a long-term investment. The more meaningful it is, the less it bothers him. The less meaningful and the more time is lost, the more stress is created. So it is a balancing of gain and loss of resources. The more bills of loss we have, or even the threat of loss, the more stressed we feel. At least that’s what Hobfoll’s theory of resource conservation* says. The theory is based on 3 basic assumptions in the definition of stress. Stress occurs with:
- Threat of loss of resources (“Maybe it’s better if the meeting goes for 3h than 2 so we can cover all of this [non-sensical] topic, what do you think?”).
- Actual loss of resources (“We have now booked the [non-sensical] meeting for 3h.”)
- Lack of resource gain (Unfortunately, all meaningful meetings last just as long as they were scheduled for and no extra time can be gained).
That makes quite a lot of sense to me. And time is just one resource we can gain or lose, in that case an energy resource. Energy resources also include knowledge and money. What new learning inspires, losing money makes us panic. The autonomy my husband needs is a conditional resource, as is marital status or job security. Covid 19 may also cause job loss. The existential fears are a big stress factor. Personal resources such as self-efficacy may also be affected. But perhaps it is on the other hand strengthened by the increased social responsibility one feels. Due to the contact restrictions, there are fewer opportunities to develop and strengthen one’s social resources. Relationships with family, friends and colleagues may suffer. And the last resource is objects, such as clothes, car or house. In order to feel less stress, it is therefore necessary to keep the profit and loss account in balance or even to create a positive bank account.
Great Theory, and now?
This realisation alone has achieved a lot for me. The more I understand where I lose resources and how I can gain them, the more I can manage my resources profitably. I can actively build up resources, act preventively, so to speak. I can do further training, which gives me knowledge and perhaps a more attractive position on the labour market, which in turn strengthens my self-efficacy. I can plan my day well and build in buffers to minimise lost time or simply say no sometimes. It is in my hands. At the same time, I can also adopt a more passive strategy and be aware of the consequences of individual actions and the possible loss of resources. Another coping strategy is to position oneself socially. When I build teams, cooperate and seek support in social interaction in order to deal with stress, Hobfoll talks about acting prosocially. In the long run, this is, in my opinion, the better strategy. Because the opposite of anti-social behaviour describes pushing away, hurting and thereby weakening and lifting oneself into a better position. If you look at power struggles in politics or the business world, this is certainly still common. However, social resources suffer enormously here.
My Conclusion from this Stress Theory
Of course, the theory is not the answer to everything, because let’s face it, existential threats over which we have no control make everyone “restless”. But it gives a little anchor. Above all, it gives understanding for what happens to me when I feel stress. There are always situations that I feel differently at different times – sometimes I feel stressed, sometimes I don’t mind at all. And usually it’s because a lot of little resource losses have come together. Hence my 3 takeaways that are worth practising
1. Positive Resource Bank Account
The more resources I have, the more stress-resistant I am. Losses bother me less and I can use my resources more profitably. It is therefore worthwhile to focus on actively gaining resources. And this is possible despite Covid 19, the freezing cold or a cold. A walk in the park gains you social and energy resources and you can adher to all rules.
2. Conscious Behaviour
Be aware of the consequences of certain actions and balance this with what you currently need. If time is a scarce resource, perhaps say no to the meeting request or analyse where all your time goes and consequently kick out activities that are not adding value to your life or your goals.
3. Build cooperations
The feeling of not being alone or having others on board reduces stress immensely. Sharing, seeking advice, putting feelings into words help exactly that. And this is also possible over phone or video call. I have such a video call once a months with 4 friends living all across Germany and this really helps.
What do you take away for yourself? What resources are you focusing on? I am looking forward to hearing from you, either by email or as a comment.