You may be one of those lucky people who never feel stressed. If that’s you, that’s fabulous – although you might want to check with your family and the people who work for you whether they agree based on what they see.
Stress is a natural and normal part of our lives. But if your heart constantly races, your shoulders are always tight, your tummy is a tangle of knots, you haven’t slept properly for ages, you continually feel sick, on edge, weepy, angry etc, then your amygdala is triggering physical warning signs that you need to take notice of.
It’s The Almond Effect®, the inappropriate activation of our survival response. This fight or flight reaction is designed to help us in life threatening and dangerous situations. At those times, our amygdala triggers the release of chemicals and hormones to heighten our awareness and give us a jolt of power and strength to protect ourselves from the threat. It’s a short-term solution to a short-term threat.
However if we don’t manage longer term stress that comes from work or home situations, our bodies stay in a stressed or alert state for much longer periods of time than is safe for us to cope with. We end up exacerbating the situation and doing even more harm to ourselves.
Not only your health but your job may be at risk
Symptoms of stress are like a smoke alarm going off. We need to do something about it, immediately. If we delay and allow stress to turn into distress, not only will we experience a negative impact on our health and personal relationships but it may prove to be a career limiting move – especially if you have aspirations to move up the corporate ladder.
Your stress impacts engagement
Why? Failure to deal with your own stress could seriously influence how people feel about working with you and for you.
One of the key elements in retaining good people and keeping them engaged is your ability to manage your stress so that it doesn’t affect the people around you.
Who wants to go to work not knowing whether the boss will be ‘up’ or ‘down’, approachable or not, communicative or sullen, energetic or lethargic, short-tempered or easy-going, acknowledging good work or not even noticing, empathetic or distant, clear in what they want (or don’t want) or has fuzzy thinking?
A statement of the obvious? Of course! Yet some people-managers think that stress is a weakness and deny its existence even when it is demonstrably clear to everyone around them that they are stressed out.
They often try to suppress or ignore the signals usually with very sad longer-term health consequences. In another issue of CLUES I’ll tell you more about the impact of suppressing emotions on our bodies.
You damage yourself, your people and your organisation
Even employees with the highest level of self-awareness and management are worn down dealing with the actual or potential ramifications of your stress. And retaining your best employees and keeping all your people engaged will continue to be a major measure of your success.
So what to do about it
These are the fantastic tips from Kay Wilhelm on the Black Dog Institutewebsite.
1. Work out priorities Keep a list – make the tasks possible. Prioritise the tasks in order of importance and tick off when done. Include the important people in your life as priorities and attend to these relationships.
2. Identify your stress situations Make a list of events that leave you emotionally drained, with one or two ways to reduce the stress for each. When they occur, use them as an opportunity to practise your stress reduction techniques, then, keep notes on what works for next time.
3. Learn to ‘reframe’ statements: Don’t react to imagined insults It is a waste of time and energy to be oversensitive to imagined insults, innuendo or sarcasm. Give people the benefit of the doubt; talk over the situation with someone you trust. They may have another spin on what was said.
4. Think before you commit yourself to other people’s expectations We can often perform tasks merely to feel accepted by other people. Practice saying “no” to requests that are unreasonable or more than you can handle at the time – rather than suffer subsequent regrets and stress. Consider whether you should learn to rely less on the approval of others, again, talk this over with someone you trust.
5. Move on: Don’t dwell on past mistakes Feelings of guilt, remorse and regret cannot change the past and they make the present difficult by sapping your energy. Make a conscious effort to do something to change the mood (eg mindfulness technique or something active you enjoy) when you feel yourself drifting into regrets about past actions. Learn from it and have strategies in place for next time. Learn to forgive yourself for past mistakes.
6. Learn to defuse anger and frustrations rather than bottle them up Express and discuss your feelings to the person responsible for your agitation. If it is impossible to talk it out, plan for some physical activity at the end of the working day to relieve tensions. Let go of grudges -they do not affect the potential victim because he does not necessarily know about them. However, the grudge-bearer pays a price in energy and anxiety just thinking about revenge.
7. Set aside time each day for recreation and exercise Gentle repetitive exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling are good to relieve stress. Meditation, yoga, Pilates and dance are also excellent. The trick is to find what suits you best. Hobbies that focus attention are also good stress relievers. Take up a new activity unrelated to your current occupation, one that gives you a sense of achievement and satisfaction. Establish new friends in your newly found interest. There are handouts with a range of techniques for relaxation and mindfulness on the Black Dog Institute website that you can use.
8. Take your time: don’t let people rush you Frenzied activities lead to errors, regrets, stress. Request time to orient yourself to the situation. At work, if rushed, ask people to wait until you finish working or thinking something out. Plan ahead to arrive at appointments early, composed and having made allowances for unexpected hold-ups. Practice approaching situations ‘mindfully’.
9. Take your time on the road: Don’t be an aggressive car driver Develop an “I will not be ruffled” attitude. Drive defensively and give way to bullies. Near misses cause stress and strain, so does the fear of being caught for speeding. If possible avoid peak hour traffic. If caught in it, relax by concentrating on deep (stomach) breathing or ‘mindful driving’ (using mindfulness technique, also available on website). Advanced driving lessons can be useful.
10. Help children and young people to cope with stress Children need the experience of being confronted with problems to try out, and improve their ability to cope. By being overprotective or by intervening too soon, parents may prevent young people from developing valuable tolerance levels for problems, or from acquiring problem-solving skills.
11. Think positively – you get what you expect Smile whenever possible -it’s an inexpensive way of improving your looks and how you feel. Try and find something positive to say about a situation, particularly if you are going to find fault. You can visualise situations you have handled well and hold those memories in your mind when going into stressful situations.
12. Cut down on drinking, smoking, sedatives and stimulants They only offer temporary relief and don’t solve the problem. They can create more problems in terms of physical and mental health. Consider the effects you are looking for (sedation or stimulation) and how else you can achieve them
It’s your life and job on the line
Your ability to manage stress is not just an issue for you and your family. It is critical to effective leadership. Your impact on staff will lead to good people staying or going and whether they perform at their optimal levels.
I strongly believe that great leadership starts with crystal clear awareness about ourselves, our emotions, our responses and our ability to manage ourselves for optimal health and performance.
Isn’t it fantastic that mastering stress and mental well-being is not only essential for yourself but will have a hugely positive effect on the people around you and their performance? And that can only be a good thing for your career.
P.S.I’d love to know if you found this post useful and any other topics you’d like to read about.