Can the answer to managing our stress be found in our values?


By Lindsay West

The World Health Organization calls stress the “health epidemic of the 21st century.”  Stress is all around us; can you think of anyone who isn’t stressed at some point in their day?

The issue is whether we can manage that stress to avoid a sustained negative impact on our wellbeing.  You may have tried meditation, mindfulness, long runs, spin classes at the gym… all these are great for dealing with the symptoms of stress, but they don’t deal with the root cause.

We may not be able to change the amount of stress in our lives, but we can learn to consciously manage it better, so the impact on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing becomes a positive, rather than a negative, one.

A major cause of stress occurs when a situation or someone’s behaviour, or indeed our own behaviour, is in conflict with our values.

For example, in my coaching work with doctors and teachers, I see many who have chosen a career involving caring for others. However, the environment they work in makes it impossible to deliver the high standards of quality care that they want to give on a daily basis (due to lack of resources, budgets etc)*.

This has a direct impact on their core values of care, excellence, service and professionalism, and this causes high levels of frustration and extreme stress, which over a sustained period leads to burnout.  What’s more, they regularly neglect their own wellbeing, mental and physical, by working longer than the hours required, not taking breaks and not eating properly as they try to compensate for the environment in which they are working. This just compounds the stress and their ability to manage it.

Focusing on our own wellbeing, reflecting on our personal core values, and finding ways to align our behaviours to those values all support us in consciously taking back control of the situation, getting our priorities right and taking appropriate action.

As the flight attendants say, always remember to put on your own oxygen mask first!  So first honour your values to yourself, then you will be in a better position to honour them with others. Take good care of yourself, then you will do a better job of caring for others.

World Values Day on 17th October reminds us to do exactly that. This year the focus is on Values and Wellbeing, and the call to action for all of us is to take a ‘Values Break’ and see what a difference it makes to how you manage your stress. #worldvaluesday #wellbeing #valuesbreak


Take care of your own values first, then you’ll be better able to care for others


Lindsay West is part of the team co-ordinating World Values Day and is a Steering Group Member of the UK Values Alliance.  Lindsay is owner of Values Coach UK and coaches Executives and Professionals to support their wellbeing using a values-based approach.


*‘Moral Distress’ JT Berger MD, Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2014, ‘Burnout’ President’s Message, Society of Critical Care Medicine, 2018


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