Stress and Covid-19

Stress… I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes in my toes!

When we talk about stress it’s often in a negative context, when we hear or see it written in the media it’s almost always around anxiety and how debilitating the effects of stress can be. Of course, right now the spotlight is even more on the effects of stress on mental health as our circumstance have changed so suddenly.

We have spent the last few days working with many clients, some are managing the most challenging events they have ever encountered in their working lives, so it’s inevitable that anxiety and stress levels are high!

Let’s dive into stress and consider what we know about it and how it’s impacting us in the current Covid-19 world.

What do we know about Stress?

We know that in simple terms it can be described as ‘any stimulus that causes disruption to our physical or mental balance’, anything that challenges us from Homeostasis – the body’s optimal operating mode.

We know that Homeostasis is a complex mix of our bodies systems working in harmony together. Controlling things like our temperature, blood pressure, Ph levels, blood sugar etc. Its main goal is to keep our internal processes stable and working optimally. So anything that impacts our optimal operating system is a ‘stressor’.

We know these ‘stressors’ come in many forms, physical, mental, social, environmental, digestive etc. Yep, even eating your favourite ice cream creates stress! We also know that many business folks are pretty resilient; they are used to the typical challenges that doing business brings. Leaders and managers are used to dealing with many forms of stress; i.e. uncomfortable conversations, tough presentations, complex negotiations, and hitting budget etc. Dealing with these pressures is part of the territory that comes with being in leadership.

The difference in our current set of circumstances is that business leaders will be responding to many more stressors than usual, and they are less likely to be familiar with them. It will be no surprise that ‘unfamiliar’ stress creates a greater stress response, we have probably all experienced this with physical stressors, if you have ever hit the gym to hard or over did the park run it takes much longer that usual to recover (if it has not caused injury and illness).

Covid-19 has brought massive uncertainty and ambiguity within the business context. On top of that there is the fear of protecting your loved ones, working from home, kids off school, all unfamiliar stress in huge doses!

As we become more familiar with a stressor it creates less disruption for us, we adapt to it. That adaptation allows us to use those resources on other stressors. The ability to adapt is central to our ability to survive; it’s what makes us so resilient.

Greater sources of stress combined with unfamiliar stress generate a greater cumulative Stress Load. Every person is different and their tolerance for handling stress also different, that said in conversations with all the clients I work with, we have agreed to firstly radically reassess organisational targets and goals.

Success needs to be redefined in the current situation; at this point not going backwards or simply surviving the next few months is a huge success!

What causing the most stress for your people right now? What specifically?

If you are a leader or manager anything you can do to reduce the impacts of negative stress is helpful. Here are some questions using the 4 A’s Stress reduction model (Avoid, Alter, Accept and Adapt) to help your thinking!


  • Environment – Our environment is important to us. What could you change in your current surroundings to avoid stress either under stimulation or over stimulation?
  • People – Who are the people in your network / organisation that create higher levels of stress for you? How could you avoid or minimise contact?
  • Tasks – Can you prioritise your tasks even more effectively? Maybe being courageous in saying ‘no’ to those things that create more stress than they are worth.


  • Relationships – What are you willing to alter to improve your business relationships? What would you like others to alter? How might you take the first steps?
  • Communication – How does your internal dialogue create stress? How could you rephrase to reduce or eliminate stress? What’s the impact of your language on your direct team of reports?
  • Time Management-How can you change your approach to become even more effective? What are the big rocks you need to move!


  • Talk it out -Who could you call? Who in your network is a good listener, who will empathise and help you feel better or more in control?
  • Forgive or give thanks –Who or what can you forgive or show gratitude for?
  • Self-sympathy.What can I let go of? Ask – What can I do to help others let go?
  • Learning – What are your insights or learning from the current crisis? What are the things you can control? What would help you control those things?


  • Adjust your standards – What standards could you adjust? How could you redefine success? What’s most critical right now?
  • Reframe the issue -How could you look at your situation from a different viewpoint?
  • Write it down -What are the things that bring you joy in life? How can you bring more of that into your life?
  • Perspective – Big Picture! How much will this matter in a year or in five years? What’s most important right now?

What questions resonate for you?

Love to hear your thoughts!