By Tamie Rising
For many leaders and professionals, the pressure is on, stress is high and exhaustion is the norm. Yet, workplace-related stress is not a new phenomenon. Self-reported data suggest that up to 72% of American employees experience daily stress that interferes with their day-to-day lives. Additionally, 40% report persistent stress or excessive anxiety linked to their jobs, which, left unaddressed, can easily lead to negative consequences for physical health, mental well-being, productivity, performance and career growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the existing challenges associated with stress at work. According to the American Psychological Association, 67% of Americans report feeling increased stress since the COVID-19 outbreak began. For some, the realities of working in public during a global pandemic raise significant health and safety concerns. For others, working from home carries challenges of its own, often blurring the boundaries of work and personal life, among others.
Sources of Workplace Stress
Employees report that the most common anxiety-provoking stressors are:
- Deadlines (55%)
- Interpersonal relationships (53%)
- Staff management (50%)
- Conflict resolution (49%)
This can translate to experiencing stress when not given sufficient resources to get the job done, feeling stuck in unresolved conflict or even juggling multiple projects and deadlines. And this last one I see with almost every team I work with: the daily stress that comes from poor planning and unclear guidelines and expectations.
This brings up two important questions:
- As the employer or team leader, how can you build a culture that reduces these stressors while achieving strategic goals?
- As the employee, how can you take charge of your own well-being while giving high-quality work?
Addressing solutions to stress at work is the responsibility of leadership and every person in the workplace.
Why? Because stress can have a significant impact on the way people perform at work and function away from work, regardless of their role in the organization. According to self-reported data, many employees find that stress has a negative impact on workplace performance and quality of work, as well as interpersonal relationships both in and out of the workplace.
While the problems of workplace stress have long been present in American society, the COVID-19 pandemic created several situations in which stress is more prevalent and serious than ever before.
Stress related to working during COVID-19
For those working from home, the stress of social isolation and an “always-on” mentality could easily contribute to burnout, a common workplace phenomenon acknowledged by the World Health Organization. For those working in a physical workplace, the demands of adapting to COVID-19 and social distancing measures can hinder creativity and productivity in meaningful ways. Additionally, many employers and leaders might fail to create a culture of work/life balance, a significant cause of stress.
Causes of Stress
Causes of stress experienced during work can originate from both the workplace and personally. It’s important to know the causes of our external and internal stress to determine how to deal with it effectively.
Some of the potential external factors include:
- Major life changes
- Financial problems
- Relationship difficulties
- Having too much workload or responsibility
- Unresolved workplace conflict
- Unclear work expectations or lack of communication
- Experience of discrimination, hate or abuse
- Being too busy in general
Some of the potential internal factors include link to our mindset:
- Inability to accept uncertainty
- Negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations and perfectionism
- Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
- All-or-nothing attitude
How Do I Know I’m Stressed?
Even if we don’t think we’re stressed, our bodies feel the impact. Our bodies take on the stress whether we realize it or not. The many potential physical symptoms of stress include:
- Mood swings
- Digestive problems
- Reduced energy
- Eye twitching
- Memory problems
- Faster heartbeat
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Strange or difficult dreams
- Increased craving for sweets
- Constant fatigue
- Weight changes
- Trouble concentrating
- Increased anxiety and panic attack
- Decreased immunity
The Importance of Stress Management
Some stress can be helpful. It can give you that little push to reach your full potential. When it begins to negatively impact your work and personal life, stress management is critical. Too much of the wrong kind of unmanaged stress can lead to decreased motivation or even burnout. A consistent stress management practice can help your mind and body adapt and build resilience to life’s stressors. Without a consistent practice, your body might always be on high alert. Over time, this chronic stress can lead to serious health problems.
But not everything you hear about stress management is true. Let’s debunk some common myths first.
4 Myths about Stress Management
- “I don’t feel stressed, and therefore, I don’t need to watch out for it.” The high-performers I work with often don’t realize what they are experiencing is stress. Slowing down to notice what’s happening in their minds and bodies gives insights into their true experience. Without slowing down to notice, they can miss the early warning signs and symptoms from their body. At its worst, stress can be a silent killer and failing to manage it could result in heart attacks or even death.
- Stress is the same for everyone. Stress affects people in many different ways. Every person is unique to how stress impacts them and the solutions that help one person from the next are just as unique.
- Stress is bad. The word ‘stress’ often creates an automatic assumption that everything surrounding it is a bad thing. A welcomed challenge at work is an example of good stress. The key is to learn to identify between the good and harmful stress and equip yourself with techniques to identify the symptoms and then to deal with it.
- Stress responses are uncontrollable. Although stress is in many cases a natural response, the myth comes in when people think they can’t do anything about it. There are various practices you can incorporate into your daily life to minimize the effect stress can have on your mind and body.
Stress Management Techniques
When you’re feeling overwhelmed (and who doesn’t feel that way sometimes?) it’s a good time to slow down, take a deep breath, and step away from your desk. To address any type of stressor, whether external or internal, these six stress management tips will help you adapt and become more resilient to stressors over time.
- Get active. Regular physical activity that gets your heart rate up has tremendous benefits for reducing stress. When your heart rate is raised, your body naturally releases endorphins. Have you heard the term runner’s high? The high is the feel good you get when your brain releases endorphins. You don’t need to be a fitness fanatic to get this effect, though. Any activity that gets your heart rate up will cause your brain to release endorphins. Simply put, you’ll reduce stress by moving your body with activities like yoga, walking, jogging or swimming.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness is a powerful technique applied to many activities, such as meditation, yoga, and even everyday activities like listening to music and enjoying food. When you are aware, you are empowered to step back from the situation and not take them so literally. Therefore, your stress response is not initiated when you are not as attached to what you’re thinking or feeling. Another benefit is slowing down your reaction time, allowing yourself to make a conscious decision on how to respond and come up with the best solution. Many of the teams I work with reduce workplace conflict through practicing mindfulness.
- Give yourself more leisure time. Most of us have at least some ambivalence about “doing nothing.” With a heavy load of responsibilities for work and family, you can think you need to remain productive, making you feel like unstructured time is wasted time. It’s counterintuitive, but studies show that breaks and downtime actually help you be more productive when at work. You may think you’re just being “lazy”, but everyone needs some downtime so they can have energy and focus to give their best work.
- Cultivate. A gratitude practice helps you focus on what’s going well and what you appreciate, which reduces stress. It’s one of the simpler and quicker routes to a greater sense of peace and emotional well-being, higher overall life satisfaction, and a greater sense of happiness in life. People with a greater level of gratitude tend to have stronger relationships with people at home and at work, and are more willing to give appreciation to others for a job well done.
- Focus on improving your self-talk. Critical self-talk like, “I’m an idiot,” “I’m such a loser, and I always will be;” and “I failed at this goal, just like I failed at all the others,” can create stress in your body and make you anxious, less resilient and even cripple your performance at work. You can improve your self-talk by first noticing the critical words you say to yourself. Then, instead say to yourself the compassionate and encouraging words you would say to someone you love, like a child. Lastly, use a daily script or mantra to reprogram the inner critic to a helpful assistant by telling yourself things like, “I am capable,” “I am strong,” and “I’ve got this!”
- Connect with others. Mental Health America found that 71 percent of people surveyed turned to friends or family in times of stress. In this age of working from home, feelings of loneliness and isolation are higher than ever. Humans are social animals. We crave feeling supported, valued and connected. Make time for truly connecting with others in ways that are meaningful to you.
The Key to Lasting Success
Always remember that mental and physical well-being is the foundation of professional success. Realizing your goals requires willingness, tenacity and a strong spirit. Pushing through stress will greatly slow down your progress to achieving your dreams and aspirations at work and beyond. Here at Pathfinder Solutions, our philosophy and approach in getting better and faster results, increasing performance and gaining a sense of satisfaction is to slow down in order to act with intention and purpose. And in the case of stress, slowing down to adequately address the stress impacting your work and personal life.
Tamie Rising is a businesswoman, certified high-performance coach, and adventurist mom with over 20 years of experience guiding leaders, teams, and organizations to their fullest potential. As the Founder & Owner of Pathfinder Solutions, her life’s work is to empower leaders to carve their own paths to success and along the way, find a sense of true satisfaction that comes from living their purpose.
Visit Tamie’s website, getonyourtruepath.com/.