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Workplace Stress Management

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9 Key Insights on How to reduce Stress at Work 

By Taron Puri

Stress is a fact of life! Regardless of your industry or profession, rest assured that stressful situations, individuals and environments will all be formidable forces which, unless handled with skill and awareness, will compromise your ability to achieve your goals and enjoy the lifestyle that you are seeking. Yet, much like the proverbial head in the sand syndrome, we ignore this fact and neglect investing in learning how to deal more effectively with the myriad of stresses which we must deal with daily.

These series of short articles will look at the phenomena of stress in our lives from different angles in order to understand how to become more effective in dealing with our workplace stresses 

Understanding the Stress Factor?

Like waves upon an ocean, stress comes and goes of its own accord. It arises when we experience conflict and can occur at the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels of our being. Generally, there are stresses over which we have no control, and those over which we do! Knowing the difference between the two is critical to our well being if we want to minimize ‘negative’ stress which results when we try to control the impossible, worry about the inevitable, and constantly argue with ‘that which is’.

In the workplace, this dynamic becomes more intense as we feel that we have to perform and always stay in charge as that is what we are getting paid to do. We often fear that our very existence and survival depends on our performance, and therefore, we must produce at all costs. And what are these costs? Typically, overtime we become compromised physically, mentally and emotionally, experiencing increasing frustration, anger, fatigue, burnout, to name a few! Statistically, stress leave is costing organizations millions, as more and more of us are becoming incapacitated by this most insidious and damaging foe!

Yet all is not lost. Realize that although our goals of being productive, effective and successful are desirable and valid, not knowing how to get to them without compromising our health and well being is what ultimately makes the exercise futile. In this 3 part series on Insights into Stress in the Work Place, we will examine the Mental, Physical and Emotional Arenas in terms of how we can learn to better deal with workplace stress.

3 Key Mental Insights about Handing Stress in the Work Place

  1. Attitude versus Aptitude – the most important realization you must have is that it is not the actual stressor which needs to be managed, but instead, how we choose to relate to the stressor! Note that I have stressed the word ‘choose’, because unless we understand that there is always a choice at hand, we will never feel capable of dealing with stress effectively. Often, we have the aptitude to perform well and be productive however, when faced with obstacles such as unrealistic workloads or timelines, we become lose perspective and beat ourselves up with thoughts of being ‘not good enough’ or ‘losing it’!

  2. Passion and Purpose- recognize that when we compromise and do a job that we don’t really want to, we end up pushing ourselves in a direction contrary to our hearts. This is not to say that at times, we must buckle down and perform tasks which are required of us despite our dislike of them. What it does mean is that in the big picture, we must align our work choices with what our hearts desire is. This is called our passion and all of us are born with it. We must take the time to explore within to draw out the passion and then investigate how we can tie it into our life’s work. This then gives all of our efforts a purpose and a meaning. And when both our purpose and passion are activated, we become empowered to handle tasks and responsibilities which in different circumstances, would have stressed us out.

  3. Cutting the Clutter – know that clutter is a phenomenon of both your environment and your mind. During my 20 plus years of coaching on Stress Management, clutter tends to be in the top 3 for things which overwhelm and stress us. I can always determine the level of stress a person is having by observing the space which they work or live in. But in order to clear this clutter, along with the physical clearing, it is essential to address the clutter in the mind. I have observed that the two go hand in hand, and that for enduring results in managing the clutter which causes us stress, it must be addressed at the mental and emotional levels.

In part 1, we explored the stress factor and established that stress is a fact of life; that we must distinguish between positive and negative stresses and ultimately, learn how to reach our goals without compromising ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Overall, realize that our physical bodies are amazing machines with literally thousands of processes at work at any given second. When these processes are harmonized, we feel well and are able to perform our duties with ease. However, the pressures of life in the modern age have created a huge instability, spawning a whole industry aimed at reestablishing ‘work-life’ balance. I am constantly amazed at how well our bodies actually do, considering the abuses we put them through. In addition, recognize that along with our physical diet, it is equally important to examine our mental and emotional diets in terms of the negative and judgmental thoughts we indulge in daily. Add to these toxic emotions, and we have a recipe for an explosive meal, guaranteed to ultimately take you out!

While we shall examine the emotional aspects in part 3 of this series, let’s look at the next 3 Key insights on workplace stress management from a nutritional perspective.

3 Key Nutritional Insights about Handling Stress in the Work Place

  1. Food Sense – I know that you know what I am going to share with you here, as all of us have been exposed to information about what we need to eat more, and less off. Being common sense, it should be a given yet, information or knowledge, without action, will never translate into anything meaningful in terms of results! So let this insight be a clear reminder that the quality of what you put inside this magnificent, one of a kind machine called the body, directly determines how well it works. Were we speaking about your BMW or Porsche, this point would be clearly understood, as we most often spend more time and energy taking care of our cars, then our own bodies. Recognize that our eating habits have for the most part become ‘unconscious’. We respond to impulses and put denatured, overly processed and essentially lifeless ‘food’ into our mouths, and then wonder why we have no energy and are constantly stressed out! There is a tremendous amount of nutritional information available today to assist us in supporting our bodies to support us in handling life’s inevitable challenges. Yet it is clearly up to you to choose wisely!

  2. Lights Out - a major ingredient of healthy, efficient and productive individuals is that they get enough sleep. Again, we all seem to ‘know’ this, yet we do not act according to our knowing. Having become a heavily ‘doing’ oriented culture, we are almost guilty about ‘sleeping’, whether it is enough or too much. Often, we sacrifice sleep in order to fit more activities into our lives, arguing that they are ‘essential’. For a time, our bodies compensate for this error in judgment but ultimately, it will not be able to keep up and crash. By design, we are on average meant to have 9.5 hours of sleep a night in order for our bodies to properly metabolize toxins and rebuild cells and tissues to keep us healthy and harmonized. And paradoxically, when we have had sufficient sleep, we become more efficient and get more done, in less time. Certainly, food for thought.

  3. Exercise – along with the obvious fact that our bodies are machines which work best when moved or moving, realize that the type of movement and even the timing of movement are essential ingredients for proper exercise. Otherwise, exercise can create more stress, rather than decrease it. Latest research compiled by the National Health Institute of America, confirms that rigorous exercise must not be undertaken in the evening hours. This is because the body’s natural rhythm is to go into a calming, resting phase. Therefore, running or doing other highly stimulating exercise at that time puts you into a reverse cycle which impacts on your quality of sleep. The best exercise for the evening hours is anything which harmonizes and calms while still working out your muscles; exercises such as Tai Chi, Yoga and walking are excellent for this. Also be aware that you don’t do more harm than benefit when you choose an exercise such as running. If not properly learned and undertaken on the appropriate surface and in healthy environments (ie. Not running on concrete next to a busy thoroughfare), you can end up harming your body in the long term. This is because biologically, running is read by your body as an attempt to escape a predatory threat, which creates cortisol, a powerful hormone that ultimately, will harm rather than help the body.

In Part 3 of this series, we explore how our feelings and their corollary behaviors effect workplace stress levels.

Thus far, we have learned how our attitudes, along with our nutritional and lifestyle choices impact on our daily performance, productivity, effectiveness and overall well being in the workplace. You may recognize by now that workplace stress management is less about the workplace itself, and more about YOU, the individual who is experiencing stress in the workplace. Realize that essentially, wherever you go, there you are! This means that how you experience stress at home and with life in general is how you will experience it at work. We do not magically change who we are and how we behave upon crossing that imaginary line into the ‘professional’ arena. As I have always said, a sore shoulder at home will cause just as much stress at work, because I cannot leave it behind. It may be part of my ‘personal’ life, yet it goes wherever I go, thus making it essential that I learn how to effectively deal with it!

This also directly applies to our behavior with each other. If we are generally thoughtful, understanding, receptive and cooperative in our personal lives, then we bring this to our work environments. And needless to say, such qualities enhance our relationships at work making it a more pleasant, less stressful place to be. And isn’t that great, since nowadays, we spend more than a third, sometimes up to a half, of our day at ‘work’!

Let’s consider the next 3 insights into how you can relate better at work in order to have a more congenial, happier work environment and therefore, less stress!

3 Key Relationship Insights about Handling Stress in the Work Place

  1. The Mirror Principle – typically in work situations, I hear my clients blaming others for their current feelings of being unfairly treated, disrespected, not trusted, micro-managed or in some manner devalued. I typically respond by asking, “So what is your mirror telling you?” Understand that in no way am in denigrating the ‘realness’ of the situation or of how much stress my client is feeling. However, I also know that if I try to change the behavior in others, as opposed to address my own feelings first, that it shall be futile. If changing others was that easy, then divorces would be a thing of the past! The point here is to recognize that often, how we feel about ourselves, mirrors itself in how others treat us. While to the logical mind this sounds absurd, I suggest you do an inventory of your feelings about yourself (ie. ‘I am no good”; “I feel like an imposter/fraud in this job and will be exposed”, “I don’t like or respect myself because…”), then look at the way you are treated by others. In my extensive personal experience as well as that in working with my clients, rarely has it been that the two are not connected. Becoming aware of this then empowers me to work on changing how I feel and therefore, what my mirrors reflect to me in my day to day interactions at work. Essentially, things often auto-correct themselves or, even if I then actively make changes, say by leaving a job, I don’t recreate the same dynamic at my new work place.

  2. Competing – ‘The apples and oranges’ syndrome – at work, as in life, we create tremendous stress in our lives when we compare apples to oranges, and wonder why we are more confused. We base our value, the value of our work, in terms of how others are doing. Certainly, just like in any sport, there is an overall reference point to which we peg our productivity and performance, and which can assist us in staying motivated and on target. But at a more subtle level, when we compare ourselves to others, either by making ourselves better or worse than them, we are making a mistake in judgment. Understand that you are unique. No one else in the world is YOU. Therefore, despite outward appearance in terms of training, aptitude and talents, only you can truly reflect from within how you are doing. By shifting our reference point to within ourselves, we are getting a more accurate picture, apples to apples, of how we are doing, what we are capable of, and what we need to change to grow. At this juncture, it is alright and even healthy to draw inspiration from the examples set by others around you, but to use them as your primary reference point will set you up for major stress. This is because you cannot control them, nor will you ever ‘be’ them. You may never understand why they achieve what they do and you cannot or why they cannot do what you do. But when you stop the apples to oranges comparisons, you appreciate both yourself, and your colleagues more, which leads to a more congenial, respectful and happier work environment for all.

  3. Communicating Truthfully and Honestly – how often do we fear being honest and truthful in the workplace to avoid reprisals? While again there is value in diplomacy and timing when it comes to communicating what you think or feel, it is essential for decreasing your overall workplace stress if you choose to act on it. Not doing so leaves us feeling frustrated, angry, resentful and even inauthentic or lacking in integrity. My direct experience has been that even though in the short-term, telling the truth or honestly expressing yourself can be uncomfortable or hurtful, in the long-term, it garners respect and fosters a more trusting and open environment. As with everything, this takes patience, work, faith and an understanding that when we having nothing to hide, we are open and able to connect authentically to others. When this is tempered with discretion in the form of good judgment, we can have a workplace at which we handle many of the inevitable stresses better because we feel connect with, and supported by our colleagues and peers.

It has been my intention in sharing these 9 insights into handling workplace stress better, to inspire you to better yourself. Each key point represents an aspect of Workplace Stress Management which deserves its own chapter. However, hopefully these discussions will suffice to inspire you to learn more and ultimately, create a work environment in which you experience less stress, while enjoying more satisfaction and success in all that you do!

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