(lat. stringere: to tense)
A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances, i.e. triggers called stressors. Stressors cause the release of hormones and neurotransmitters resulting in activation and mobilization. In the process, especially adrenaline and cortisol can damage the health if they are present in elevated concentrations in blood over extended periods of time.
Hands up, who among you also wants to be less stressed this year?
As far as I‘m concerned, reducing stress has been among my new-years‘s resolutions for many consecutive years now. Every single year in recent memory I‘ve reached the point at which „a lot“ eventually became „too much“, where I hit my limit. But every year I improved my handling of those moments when stress threatened to overwhelm me.
These days, I think I‘d say that in most instances the biggest source of stress is myself. I often put myself under pressure, stress out and torture myself, because I am a slave to my own lofty goals. I don‘t enjoy delegating tasks, I tend to be too much of a perfectionist, and often I overestimate my own capacities. I am simply too strict with myself.
And then, of course, my environment also stresses me. I am weighed down by looming deadlines, appointments, my phone, which beeps constantly, because I am always available, and above all I feel the constant pressure of the Instagram universe, in which I never feel like I do enough, no matter how hard I try. I am a prisoner in this seemingly hyper-optimized society, in which stress is not only accepted, but often outright glorified. Going to one’s physical and mental limits to achieve a perceived success is simply part of the game. The beautifully packaged but toxic credo of this stressed out society is: live life to the max and become the best version of yourself.
Whether at work, in spare time or with friends – in order to meet the requirements daily life poses on us, we need to perform better and better, more and more often. We need to withstand ever-increasing pressure and stress levels, and the erosion of boundaries between work and private life knocks our work-life-balance out of whack, making it more of a work-work-balance.
Stress, especially the constant kind, is nothing we should take too lightly. Stress is the main cause of burnout, but it can also lead to depression, addiction or chronic fatigue syndrome. If we don‘t let our body rest, if we don‘t know how to handle stress well, we run an increased risk of cardiac and circulatory problems, gastrointestinal disorders, head-, neck-, back, and joint-pain, and even problems with our skin. No wonder that long-term exposure to stress weakens the immune system enormously, which in turn makes us generally much more susceptible to illnesses. Living with too much stress means living dangerously.
Unfortunately, stress is a deeply rooted and widespread problem in our society. It‘s a fact that almost nine out of ten Germans feel stressed in their work, and six out of ten complain about at least temporary experience of the typical burnout symptoms like continuous exhaustion, inner tension and back-aches.
— pronovaBKK, 2018
In other words, it seems pretty clear that work is the largest stress factor in the lives of people living in Germany. The rising flood of information, the increased complexity of tasks, the accelerated working speed and the constant time pressure is experienced by 45% of German employees as stressful and a cause for „emotional exhaustion“.
— pronovaBKK, 2016
The bottom line is that stress has become one of the largest health risks in the 21st century. Health insurances report that the number of days of absence at work due to mental health issues has increased by 80% between 1997 and 2012 .
— BAUA, 2012
Spelling stressed backwards gives you the word desserts, but unfortunately that‘s not a real solution.
Fortunately, our understand of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle and mental health is growing. Only if we feel mentally strengthened are we able to deliver peak performances – be it in our private or our work lives – without completely exhausting ourselves in the process.
Ten years ago it was an often-ridiculed cliché that managers would often run some rounds before going to work, today few people question that a healthy spirit needs a healthy body to reside in, and that physical exercise has a positive influence on our mental capacities and well-being. Many of us have enrolled in gyms for that reason or tried other sports, me included. Life without exercise has become unthinkable for me.
But what about mental fitness?
Many managers I know have coaches. I also had a coach at one point, a professional who helped me to keep my calm in particularly stressful moments and to dissolve emotional blockades – especially with regards to public speaking. These days I barely get stage-fright, and I actually enjoy giving talks to big crowds participating in panel discussions. But sadly, consulting a coach is a serious financial commitment, and not everyone can afford the option of turning to a coach to improve mental fitness.
Well – this is where Flowletics comes in.
Flowletics is a start up, founded by my boyfriend and supported by yours truly. It‘s a concept I really believe in, not least because I had the chance to give a lot of feedback during the development process. I still contribute to the optimization of the Flowletics training app as much as I can. It‘s a project close to my heart, which is why I‘m telling you about it today. But let‘s take it from the top.
What is flow?
Flow is a state in which we become fully immersed in an activity, we are highly concentrated, perform effortlessly and with joy. In the state of flow, we feel amazing and are at our highest capacity. This makes flow an important concept not only in sports but also in professional life.
I’m sure you’ve experienced flow yourself already. Maybe when you completely forgot about time when doing something that you really enjoy.
A study by consulting firm McKinsey shows that we are up to 5 times more productive in a state of flow, that we are up to 6 times more creative and learn up to 5 times faster.
The Flowletics app is based on scientific insights in the field of flow-research., which suggest that certain autotelic personality traits are particularly conducive to a productive frenzy – in other words: flow. This sets Flowletics apart from common meditation and mindfulness-apps. Flowletics goes a step further and supports users with a tailored and targeted flow-training-plan in order to increase their mental and emotional fitness.
In a first step, you create an individual user profile, which then serves as the basis for a weekly training program, with which users can train their flow skills and monitor their progress on a flow-score. The training consists of exercises using a mindfulness-based-stress-reduction (MBSR) approach as well as cognitive behavioral therapy and mental coaching.
There are, in fact, a number of studies which show that after only eight weeks of daily mental training structural changes in our brain can be observed.
The effectiveness of these different training methods is soundly proven.
The areas mainly affected by those changes are the prefrontal cortex, which regulates mental processes like mindfulness governance and self-reflection, as well as the hippocampus and the amygdala, which regulate emotions and our perception of fear, respectively. These are factual, neuronal changes, which enable us to deal with distractions, self-doubt and stress in a more productive way.
This is crucial, since stress is not necessarily bad for you per se: when we talk about stress in our daily lives, we usually mean negative stress, also called distress (or dystress). But there is also positive stress, called eustress. Distress describes a state of overload or excessive pressure. Eustress is generally not perceived as a burdening emotion, but rather a cause and by-product of tasks we enjoy but which also pose a challenge. Eustress has an invigorating effect, and can in fact boost performance. In order to reach a flow-state, your body requires the right amount of stress, as the band within which flow can be experienced, the flow-channel, sits in a sphere between stress (“overload”) and relaxation (“underload”). Whether we perceive stress negatively, and which effect it has on us, depends largely on us! Our emotions, thoughts, and reaction to those thoughts are crucial factors in our ability to find our flow or not.
And in this respect we are all extremely creative when it comes to stressing ourselves without need, and to sabotage our own efforts. Each of us has their own, completely individual constitution, and we all have different, individual „flow-stoppers“. The Flowletics mental training is designed to help us focus more. Concentration and the handling of the constant barrage of distractions is a crucial aspect for most of us. If you are easily distracted or prone to brooding thoughts, you will find it more difficult to break out of the thought-carousel and to focus on the present moment or the task at hand. Others among us may tend to be too dogged in our approach. Excessive ambition and perfectionism may be detrimental to our inner balance,which may then cause emotional turmoil in us. Those of us who lose touch with our ability to let go, usually lack the necessary distance and perspective to retain focus in times of stress and under pressure. And then there are those crippling self-doubts which keep many of us treading on the spot. How often does a lack of self-confidence or the fear of failure prevent us from taking necessary steps into unknown territory or from tackling difficult challenges with optimism and resolve? Especially us women are often too averse to taking risks. The optimism exercises built into the Flowletics app are designed to help us build confidence in ourselves. Lastly, the social media-jungle, which is an environment of sensory overload and seemingly endless possibilities actively prevents us from seeing clearly what it actually is we want. If we lose touch with our „why“, the snooze button quickly turns into a „false friend“. Without real purpose, motivation fizzles out quickly, and our drive is lost. The result is that we become less and less capable of feeling genuine excitement, and we stop growing on the challenges we face in daily life. In that case, growth-exercises help us to tap hidden sources of motivation in every-day-situations, which ultimately enables us to outgrow our limitations.
My initial test has shown me that out of the four flow-areasI am extremely lacking of ease. Unfortunately, this really hits home for me. All too often I feel overwhelmed, and yes, if I‘m honest: I am lacking ease in my life. While I‘m happy to confront any challenge that comes my way head on, I am often incredibly dogged in my approach. And how often do I wrestle with the feeling of profound doubt, usually when I hit my limit again, when exhaustion envelops me like a dark blanket, and when I ask myself: Why am I doing all this? There are weeks when even just getting up in the morning is a major battle that I need to fight and win every day anew. So, you see, I am by no means free of blockades myself.
And this is why I feel proud and honored to contribute to this app. In the near future, I will sit down with my team to create a related program tailored specifically to people like me – influencers and public personalities, but also, more generally, people who work a lot in and with social media. Each exercise is created in cooperation with psychologists and coaches, addresses pressing, real-life societal needs and is based on cutting-edge scientific research.
I warmly invite you to register (it is still free, for now), and learn about more flow and less stress.
This post is also available in DE