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Support, demands and how they impact stress

What if, in the end, stress is the result of too many demands on insufficient resources? And what if you could build up your resources?

So what is stress, anyway? There are many models used to talk about stress, but an evidence-based (and accessible) model is the demands resource model. According to this model, stress occurs when the demands placed on you and the resources you have to deal with them are imbalanced. When we have too many, or too few demands this can lead to stress.

And while stress is natural and forms a part of the human experience, if it’s persistent over time this can cause problems. Which is why it’s important that we address the causes and consequences of stress when we can.

Signs and symptoms of stress

You may notice your own personal symptoms of stress. Some common symptoms that signal stress include: struggling to focus, tense shoulders or back, a sore stomach, and trouble getting a good night's sleep (which can lead to feeling tired and low energy levels). Some of these signs develop slowly and can be hard to notice in-the-moment.

So it’s important to check in with your body and mind regularly to get a sense of how you’re feeling.

We’re all individuals here, so it only makes sense that everyone experiences stress differently, even the people closest to you (friends, family, and coworkers). As we move to more remote and distanced working and living situations it can be harder to notice when someone we care about is stressed.

Signs of stress could show up as seeming distracted, avoiding making decisions or not attending events (online or in-person). You may notice changes in eating habits, an increase in caffeine or nicotine use during the day, or alcohol in the evenings or on weekends.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, stress and ways of coping are firmly on the agenda of most individuals and workplaces. Unfortunately, there are still certain stigmas associated with talking about stress and accessing relevant mental wellbeing support.

That said, there are ways to break down the causes of stress in a way that can be more easily talked about and supported.

If stress is the imbalance of demands and the resources you can allocate to handling said demands, a closer look at the definition of "demands" and "resources" is probably a good idea.

A scale shows demands outweighing resources. Underneath it, the text reads "Stress= too many demands, too few resources.

Demands and their role in stress

Demands are mental, emotional or physical tasks that require effort to complete. They can also be divided into two categories:

Hindering demands drain your energy and prevent you from achieving your desired goals. Examples include job insecurity, overload, a lack of job clarity, as well as frustration-inducing traffic or technology meltdowns.

Challenging demands are tasks that also use your energy, but can also promote your personal growth. For example, a project at work that will help your career, teaching a family member, friend, or coworker a new skill, or really any reasonably challenging task with a realistic deadline. 

To feel motivated and stimulated, you need some challenging demands (but not too many).  But too few demands and you’ll be bored and undermotivated which also becomes a source of stress.

Types of resources

To achieve your goals and handle demands in your daily life you’ll need resources. Here are two categories of resources people access to handle demands:

Personal resources are your personal attributes, your resilience, self-efficacy, hope and your personal sense of optimism.

Organizational (or environmental) resources are provided by your organization or the environment in which you live and work. Common examples include manager support, clear objectives, a safe space at work, as well as access to healthy food and social support.

Finding your balance

The ideal situation for most of us is a state of balance, with enough demands to feel motivated and positively challenged, plus access to sufficient resources to be supported in achieving goals and tasks.

But there’s no such thing as perfect balance.

Some days you’ll spill something all over your notes, and your internet connection will fail and things will certainly feel off-kilter. However, by understanding and labeling your demands and resources you are already one step ahead for days when so much feels outside your control. And if you take further steps to prepare for those not-so-great days (like adding to your toolkit of resources with mental wellbeing tools like Foundations), you’ll be in an even better position to handle stress.

Take some time today to map out your current demands and resources and craft a balance that works for you.

What demands do you currently have? And what can you do to build up your resources? Let us know at foundations@koahealth.com.