We all hear so much about the “fight or flight response” to stress. However, lately I have been reading more about the “tend-and-befriend” response developed by Dr. Shelley E. Taylor of the University of California, Los Angeles. This refers to the evolutionary behavioral response of managing stress by caring for offspring and seeking social support. Dr. Taylor explains that women are more likely than men to look to others for support in times of stress. In the modern work world this means that women create, maintain, and use social networks—especially friendships with other women—to manage stressful conditions.
When I first read about this response it made so much sense to me in the context of my own reactions to work stress over the years. The idea of flight or flight seemed limiting and didn’t align with my personal experiences.
For almost ten years I worked at a fundraising consulting firm as part of a three-woman team that provided strategic research to clients. Rarely was there a time when the list of projects to complete wasn’t a mile long. The first few years felt quite stressful as I settled into my new role and we experienced a series of staffing changes. Then the team stabilized and we had a magical time where we were able to accomplish our day-to-day work while being innovative and growing our service offerings.
The workload didn’t get smaller; in fact we started to take on many new initiatives during this time. Yet as a team I could feel that we encountered less stress and felt energized and excited by our work. Looking back I realize we cultivated a strong culture of asking for help, receiving help and offering help. I often find that my clients, who are senior fundraising leaders, excel at offering help. Their growth edge is more often in asking for and receiving help.
At the consulting firm, one of our core values as a team was playing to our unique strengths. Although technically each person on the team had a region they were responsible for, we really worked in a collaborative style and were flexible about who would take on work. If you loved that task and were really good at it, then you took that on. If one region was busier that week someone else would pitch in to help. Our objective was to provide the best work to our clients. But more importantly we were committed to ensuring everyone on the team could accomplish their work with less stress and more fun (another of our core values).
As a result I rarely felt overwhelmed by my work because I knew help was just a few feet away at my colleague’s desk.
In my case I had co-workers in the same role and they could step forward and support me. Perhaps you are the only person in your role. Or perhaps you are the manager of the team. You might not see a direct road to help. But I guarantee it is there. Just look around.
Identify one thing today that is stressing you out and then get up from our desk and go and ask for help.