The secret to keeping stress levels positive

01 July 2021

It might sound like a contradiction in terms to use the words 'stress' and 'positive' in the same sentence. Surely there's nothing good about feeling stressed? Shouldn't we be trying to avoid getting stressed?

Well actually no! Stress is a natural reaction that occurs for one of two reasons. Either we feel that something we really care about, such as our ability to provide for our family or an important relationship, is under threat. Or we feel like the demands on our time or ability are exceeding our ability to cope.

In both cases, the initial stress reaction is a good thing, alerting us to what matters most to us. Motivating us to stretch ourselves out of our comfort-zone, or make changes to our lives to increase our ability to cope once more.

The secret to keeping stress levels down is learning to view your stress levels as a useful 'early warning system' and knowing how best to respond – before you start to feel overwhelmed.

Why stress is your friend

Even though thirst and tiredness can be uncomfortable sensations, they're actually on our side because they alert us to when we need to take better care of ourselves, by getting a drink or an early night.

Similarly, stress can be our friend, if we let it. It's just our body's way of alerting us to the fact that we're feeling the effects of pressure of some kind.

A little bit of stress can actually be a good thing, motivating us to work productively to hit a deadline, focusing our minds before a meeting and making us want to acquire new knowledge before an exam. But just as thirst left unchecked can lead to dehydration, stress left unchecked can lead to physical and mental health problems.

Know when to take action

The most important thing you can do to keep stress levels positive is to recognise when your body is telling you that the pressure you're facing is beginning to have a detrimental affect on you.

Although the point at which we become 'too stressed' varies from individual to individual, with some 'stress junkies' thriving on levels of pressure that others would gladly avoid, typical common symptoms include:

  • Feeling tearful or aggressive.
  • Struggling to fall asleep or waking early.
  • Loss of appetite or eating too much.
  • Becoming more forgetful and error prone.
  • Not wanting to be around others or make eye contact.
  • Nail biting, eye twitching, leg jerking or other physical cue.
  • Feeling like everything is against us and no one is on our side.

How to keep stress levels positive

The secret to keeping stress levels positive is to act on any negative feelings associated with stress, before they become overwhelming. In much the same way that we try to get a drink as soon as we feel thirsty, instead of waiting until we become dehydrated to do something about it.

When seeking to reduce stress levels you have two options:

A: Reduce the level of pressure you're under

Ask for help, hand back some responsibility, give yourself more time or get emotional support.

B: Increase your ability to cope with the pressure

Increase your emotional resilience and ability to deal with pressure before it gets too much for you.

In reality it's important to do a mixture of both. WPA's EAP/Health and Wellbeing Helpline can offer emotional and practical support if you're feeling overwhelmed, and resilience training to help identify things you can do to stay healthy under pressure.

Increasing resilience to stress

In total, we've identified six 'batteries' that you need to keep charged to increase your resilience to stress and ability to stay healthy under pressure:

1. Social

Regular opportunities for quality social interaction with others.

2. Emotional

Doing things that give you a sense of joy or achievement.

3. Physical

Nurturing your body by eating well and getting enough sleep.

4. Mental

Stretching yourself and seeing 'failure' as an opportunity to learn.

5. Mindful

Setting aside time and worries to mindfully enjoy the moment.

6. Meaning

Living by the personal values that matter most to you.


When my son started secondary school I also decided to start a much more demanding job. Although it was a stressful time, with a lot of change happening, I felt more overwhelmed than I should have so looked at which resilience batteries were running low.

I realised my social energy, which had been topped up by chatting to other mothers when collecting my son from his primary school every day, had completely gone, leaving that battery almost empty.

Although the other batteries were running high, I made a concerted effort to reconnect with some of the women I used to chat to on a daily basis and set up a professional network to allow me to regularly interact with like-minded people on a regular basis again.

It took a little while to feel that social connection come back in again but, once it did, I felt my resilience come back to where it had been and felt much more emotionally prepared to meet the new demands being placed upon me.

In summary

The secret to keeping stress levels positive is to monitor and respond to any negative feelings before they become overwhelming.

This can be done by reducing the pressures faced or taking stock of your resilience batteries to make sure they're fully charged enough to help you cope.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the third party who provides the WPA Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)/Health and Wellbeing Helpline.

Please note: The EAP/Health and Wellbeing Helpline is not available to family member(s) under 16 years of age. It is optional on Precision Corporate Healthcare and our large corporate schemes so please check your WPA literature carefully to see if you have this benefit.