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Pressure v/s "Stress"

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One of the common queries that we face when discussing a proposed workshop is, "Will you be touching upon how to manage stress?" Our response is, "Yes. Participants will experience how to handle high levels of pressure without getting stressed out."

From the experiential perspective of "CorporateTheatre", 'managing' stress is like 'managing sickness'. It might me more productive to think of 'managing' health, rather than sickness. Managing sickness assumes that sickness is our given state and tries to find ways of getting things done in spite of being sick. When you look at managing health, we work on the fundamental conviction that health is our natural state, and how do you enjoy and sustain it, without falling into sickness, which should at best be an unfortunate and occasional aberration.

In a typical "CorporateTheatre" workshop, participants are subjected to high levels of pressure in terms of:


Strange as it may seem till it has been actually experienced, participants deliver powerful output under the above conditions, and actually ENJOY the process.

It would be stating the obvious when I say that none of us will ever be in a worthwhile corporate environment where there is no challenge and pressure. But whether that challenge and pressure becomes "stress" or "celebration" depends on the environment that we create, and the attitude that we bring to it. Pressure does not create stress. It is our reaction to pressure, often fostered by the environment that we experience, that causes stress.

During my tenure in the Army, I did a course in mountaineering at the High Altitude Warfare School, in Kashmir. A mountaineer in the high mountains, as everyone knows even if they have not been at high altitude, is under tremendous pressure. When negotiating a tricky rockface, or a slippery ice covered slope, or a crevice-ridden glacier, one small mistake, one slip in concentration, the slightest breach of discipline, can convert an exciting adventure into tragic disaster. The demands on physical and mental endurance is extremely high. Yet, there is no mountaineer who says that mountaineering is stressful. On the contrary they say, mountaineering is fun, and actually, relaxation.

To take another example, anyone who has been on stage waiting for the curtain to rise and the show to start, knows the intense fear, anxiety, tension that the actors experience. Often, audiences tell us after a play, "you guys seemed to be having great fun!". Absolutely. But not in the way most people think. If they had peeped in backstage before the show started they would have seen actors hugging each other, reassuring each other, comforting each other, breathing hard, exercising, trying to give each other courage and confidence. You will see some actors trying to recollect their lines, one last time. You will probably find another actor running to the toilet, just one more time, before the show starts. This may sound like an exaggeration, but after 40 years of actually experiencing theatre, I will vouch for it - it has been medically proved that an actor on stage goes through the physical symptoms of a severe accident victim. (Please don't ask me for medical journal reference. I came across this a long time ago. But go ahead, ask any serious actor.)

Yet no actor says theatre is stress. On the contrary, probably every actor who has continued doing theatre will say that it is one of the most challenging, yet most enjoyable activities that one can engage in.

Take any other demanding activity like any international sport, formula racing, athletics - the intensity of pressure can be very high, without causing stress.

From the wisdom of the participants, some of the factors that emerge as major contributors toward creating stress at the workplace include:

"CorporateTheatre" gives experiential insights into all these aspects. In a 2-day "Leadership through Team Instinct" workshop, participants after having experienced and demonstrated their ability to take on intense pressure without getting stressed out, also analyse the environment and the attitude that enabled this. They explore how to recreate the same environment and attitude at the workplace with appropriate team definitions, goal setting, and appraisal and reward policies that facilitate positive collaboration within teams, while promoting healthy competition between teams.

The concept of 'healthy competition' is also defined and explored and the insights gained will be covered in a future post.

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