Stress: Finding an equal and opposite reaction

Stress is one of the largest health problems of our time and already at an all-time high in the workplace. This situation is exacerbated further when personal challenges are layered on, from crises of confidence to problems with relationships. Covid-19 represents an unprecedented change to our daily lives, bringing a myriad of disruption, uncertainty and challenge, adding pressures into both our work and home lives.

Our relationship with, and management of, stress has perhaps never been more important in recent history. A big differentiator now is that it is the same stressor at the boardroom table as at the family dinner table.

Stress – a term originating in physics – has perhaps never felt so clearly linked to the idea of forces, particularly forces beyond our control. How should we all react as individuals and collective teams, communities and countries to deal with this?

For most of us, there is an unprecedented push required in our professional working environments: Usual business patterns and services suffering astronomical disruptions; fears of unemployment or lowered incomes; public places closing their doors and with that, their tills; employees under enormous strain to perform or innovate without the support or framework to do so; and leaders under pressure to motivate, maintain results, manage staffing. Across sectors, our professional world has been turned upside down and with that, for most, comes a large dose of negative stress.

But this push is not the only force on us. Our homes and communities are also exerting an opposing force, pulling us inwards and driving insular and protective behaviours: concerns about the vulnerable in our personal lives; panics about whether we have enough medicine or household essentials to last an unknown time period; unprecedented childcare challenges; new ways of living ‘in lockdown’; and, inevitably for many of us, some experience of dealing with personal challenges and grief.

How do we remain resilient and able to navigate this?

Citing studies carried out by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, an article in the Harvard Business Review on resilience describes how if you have too much time in the performance zone, you need more time in the recovery zone […] The value of a recovery period rises in proportion to the amount of work required of us.

With the borrowing of the term ‘stress’ from physics still front of mind, this reminds me starkly of Newton’s third law – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Consider a flying bird: the bird’s wings push air down and the air is pushing the bird upwards; this equal balance of forces allows the bird to fly. Can we draw some inspiration from our analogical bird?! If the downward force of the wings is the negative stress on our professional and personal lives, what is the air pushing it upwards to allow us to continue ‘to fly’? My view: it is our capacity for resilience.

Identifying the reaction: how can coaching help?

Understanding what our personal counter forces are to negative stressors – as individuals, institutions, communities – is going to be critical in the coming months. Coaching has been widely used for many years to support people experiencing that catch-all label ‘stress’, providing them with a space for reflection and development, working alongside a trusted partner. Now more relevant than ever, coaching provides one way to open up an understanding of how to nurture your capacity for resilience through:

  • Having an objective sounding board to work through your experiences
  • Reframing personal and professional boundaries in ‘the new norm’
  • Empowering individuals to find new ways to work innovatively, be creative and solve problems
  • Supporting capacity generation and positive action
  • Understanding your energy sources and uses
  • Helping you to be present (not just sharpening focusing, but an acceptance of what is around you and what you are feeling)
  • Working with what you have and not seeking control of the uncontrollable

With some of the greatest changes to our ways of living and working that our society has experienced in at least a generation, we need to be deliberate and proactive in caring for ourselves – physically, emotionally and mentally.

Stress - proactive

For those in need of further support, some links to mental health charities in the UK are listed below in addition to our reading list this week.

Reading list:


The Resilience DynamicJenny Campbell
“We believe that everyone deserves to perform well without compromising their wellbeing. Resilience delivers both.” A simple and easy-to-access study into resilience and its applications to improve our wellbeing.

Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human MindNancy Kline
“Everything we do depends for its quality on the thinking we do first. Our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other.” The power of effective listening and 10 ways to create ‘The Thinking Environment’.


Coping with Fatigue, Fear, and Panic During a Crisis (Harvard Business Review, March 2020)
“We can’t change what we don’t notice, so the first step is becoming more aware of what we’re feeling at any given moment. That means cultivating the capacity to observe our emotions, rather than being run by them.” A useful exploration in the context of Covid-19 into how different parts of our selves respond to threat and danger, to help avoid catastrophizing about the crisis.

 Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure (Harvard Business Review, June 2016)
An important reminder that a lack of recovery period reduces our ability to be resilient.

10 ways to be more mindful at work 
Written in a different environment, but some useful reminders that apply still apply today in our remote settings.


Managing the Stress and Uncertainty of Coronavirus, HBR Presents 

Mental health support links: 

Kirsty ReynoldsSince 2016,  Kirsty has worked at Templar Advisors as a coach and consultant, supporting individuals and teams on their communication needs, from developing executive presence to negotiation skills. She is the lead on Templar’s Women’s Development Series in Europe, where she focuses on 1:1 and group coaching work.

Kirsty is also an accredited executive coach, working with a broad range of clients across financial and professional services, as well as those in the media sector and entrepreneurs. Her specific area of interest is developing resilience, working pragmatically with clients to manage stress and grow through change.

She also specialises in working with women at different stages in their careers, understanding the specific challenges that they may face in the workplace and working with them to create a space to honestly explore and navigate those challenges.

Templar provide a range of training and executive coaching services targeted at groups and individuals looking to improve performance in a broad spectrum of areas from public speaking, sales and relationship management to leadership and individual career development.



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