NEWS AND EXPERTS Stress at work can adversely affect other areas of your life, such as relationships and sleep, studies show. And as stress in the workplace rises, having a stress management strategy is vital, according to mental health professionals and experts in corporate culture.
It’s not just workers who suffer from stress. Employers feel the effects of stress in increased absenteeism and lost production, and some companies address work-related stress with policies and practices. But it’s important for over-stressed workers to develop their own tools to better deal with stress and not let it affect their job performance or quality of life, says Cynthia Howard (www.eileadership.org), an executive coach and performance expert.
“Stress is the new normal and, to become resilient, you must practice strategies that will unhook you from the damaging, reactive nature of the stress reaction,” says Howard, the author of The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room. “One cannot think their way out of a stress reaction, and when you ignore what can happen, you leave yourself vulnerable.”
Howard offers these strategies to build a tolerance to work stress and perform at a high level even during stressful situations:
•On a count of four, breathe. The goal is breathing with intention to shift the stress effect. Howard suggests taking four deep breaths — breathing in on the count of four, holding on four, exhaling on four. “Breathing is your first line of defense against the distraction of the stress reaction and being overwhelmed,” Howard says. “Most people today are in moderate to severe stress, multitasking, or in the throes of strong emotions. Breathing gets shallow and less effective in blowing off the buildup of carbon dioxide, leaving you more acidic — the opposite of what the body needs to stay energized.”
•Take a moment: the three-second transition. Used at different parts of the day, such as before and after a meeting or difficult conversation, this strategy helps develop the feeling of being in the moment. “Be deliberate with three seconds,” Howard says. “Pause, breathe, and focus on what you are going to do — for three seconds. This slows down your mind and opens your awareness. With practice, it will also expand your situational awareness and lead to more enjoyment of your day.”
•Practice everyday mindfulness.
Because many people are distracted in a social media-filled world, Howard says, it’s hard for them to focus for long periods. Mindfulness can tune out distractions. “Mindfulness means directing your attention to what is happening in the moment without judging what is happening,” Howard says. “This practice improves the quality of your attention and decreases your reactivity to stress.”
•Keep a journal. Howard suggests taking 10 minutes each day to write out thoughts. “This practice will increase self-awareness and build your ability to stay in the moment,” Howard says. “You will get to know yourself at a deeper level and, with that, get to the real
motives that drive your choices and
behavior. Set a time limit to do your journaling and have specific goals in mind— reflecting on a conversation, recapping your day, digging deeper into your reaction to something. Then go back and review your journal after every quarter. Have you made progress?”
“We tend to expend more energy than we renew,” Howard says. “Most people go through the day with constant interruptions, irritations, and other emotional triggers, all draining energy. It is essential to use some type of stress-relief strategy every day to keep our energy stores filled.”
Cynthia Howard is an executive coach, performance expert and the author of “The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room.” Howard researched stress and its consequences in performance during her PhD. In the past 20-plus years she has coached thousands of professionals, leaders and executives toward emotional agility and engaged leadership. For more information, visit: www.eileadership.org.