Ways to Deal with Work-Related Stress
These unpredictable times have led to unprecedented levels of stress in the workforce. Its effects are real and potentially devastating. Many studies have shown how stress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, increased blood pressure, chest pain, and trouble sleeping, as well as playing a big role in the development of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. It is important you find ways to manage your own stress and help employees manage theirs. It is no small or easy task, but there are things you can do for yourself and your staff, and things you can suggest they do for themselves.
What you can do for them:
- Check in regularly
whether by video conference, email or in-person if possible. Even if it’s not to discuss business. Right now it is really important to maintain relationships, to let employees know you understand what they are going through, that you are going through it with them. Not all employees will want to share their feelings of stress or anxiety. So it might be up to you to take the first step.
- Be clear about expectations
the unknown is a great producer of anxiety. Make sure you communicate often with your staff and define clear expectations. The whole work situation has changed so it’s reasonable to expect that expectations have too. That’s fine, as long as you keep everyone on the same page.
- Find ways to keep your team together even while you work apart
come up with some virtual ways to get together outside of work. Maybe a virtual happy hour Mondays at 4 pm, Thursday night online baking challenges or Wednesday lunchtime, online fitness classes. Only limit to what you can do is your imagination.
- Distribute resources and tools
put together a mental wellness checklist that employees can follow, and send out helpful websites and support contacts. Not all of your employees will come forward and ask for help.By making the first move and providing tools for support, you’re showing employees how they can get the help they might need.
- Lead by example
a little harder if you’re working from home, but doable. When your staff see you taking time out of your day for mental breaks and exercise, or days off to recharge, they see that scheduling time for self-care is acceptable and even encouraged. Also, talking about your own issues and vulnerabilities can show your employees that perfection is not expected and that you get the challenges others are facing.
What everyone can do for themselves:
- Set a daily routine
try to make it as close to your at work routine as possible. Put together a structured plan that sets clear boundaries between your work and your private life. Your work routine should include regular breaks, leaving your desk for lunch and a regular cut-off time. Divide the rest of your day into small tasks and make sure to make time for the things that bring you joy – pursuing hobbies, spending time with family or pets, or listening to a warbler in your yard. Whatever makes you happy.
- Put thought into your workspace
the atmosphere that you work in can be a big factor in reducing stress. We don’t all have the space for an office at home, but there are several ways to improve any space by adding a few small items. For instance, plants can make a big difference. Not only do they recycle and refresh the air, they have a soothing effect and make the space feel calmer. Try to add as much natural light as possible to brighten your space and lift your mood 9while lowering energy costs!) and find something that smells great like an awesome candle or some essential oils. Keeping the place smelling good can really shift your mood.
- Get enough sleep
nobody functions well when they don’t get enough sleep. A body without enough sleep is a breeding ground for stress and anxiety. Aim for 8 hours and have a nightly routine. Going to bed at the same time every night helps set your body’s internal clock. Turn off screens an hour before going to sleep. Pick up a book instead. And try to keep the routine going on weekends to keep things humming along.
- Find moments of joy
it might sound silly, but little moments of joy – unexpectedly hearing a favourite song, getting a call from an old friend (I should NOT assume I know what brings you joy!), etc. – can lift the spirits. Joy can be contagious and is a wonderful thing to spread around.
Fact: exercise relieves stress. It produces endorphins – those feel-good neurotransmitters. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week – or if you are very motivated, a combination of both. That’s as little as 15 minutes a day! It can be as easy as taking short breaks to move around during your work day, going for walks or getting the whole team together for an online yoga class. Check out the WHO website for some examples of exercises for people of different ages and abilities. And get up!
- Spend time in nature
numerous studies have shown getting outside and connecting with nature has a positive effect on mental health. Spending just 20 minutes connecting with nature can help lower stress hormone levels. This can be easy or not so easy depending on where you live. If you live in a city, try to find a park that blots out the office buildings for a while. If you’re more rural, take advantage of the green spaces, hiking trails or waterways that may be at your disposal. A little me time outdoors is always good for the soul.
find some time every day to disconnect, to forget about what’s going on in the world for a while – because it is stressful. Set limits around the amount of COVID-19 related news you take in. Avoid (and I can’t believe there’s a word for it!) “doom scrolling” – the tendency to scroll through web pages despite the discouraging news. Put the screen down. Pick up a book, try meditation, do a puzzle, phone a friend – anything that doesn’t involve a connected screen and thumb typing!
- Stay positive
sounds easy. If it was, it would be the only thing we’d need on this list! It isn’t easy, but it is possible. Start by being grateful. It’s surprising how much different your outlook is when you make a point to recognize the people and things in your life that you’re lucky to have. Keeping a “Gratitude Journal” is an excellent way to make yourself sit down and catalogue all of the good things in your life. Done on a regular basis it can be a real spirit-lifter and stress-reducer.
- Don’t try to be perfect
these are uniquely different times, where the only constant is change. You may be asked to do things you’ve never done before, things that take you out of your comfort zone. So mistakes are going to be made. By everyone. So don’t be scared of them. Learn from them. Wanting to be perfect can send your stress sky high and make your self-worth drop off the map. Understand that failures don’t define you, they’re just opportunities for learning and growth.
- Focus on what you can control
This is the crux of it. Much of the anxiety we experience is over the uncertainty caused by things outside our control. The best way to combat that is to only focus on the things we can control – like our effort, our attitude, and how we treat people. You will notice all of the suggestions listed above involve things we can control rather than the outcomes we can’t like when will be put back in lock-down or, when will the vaccines be rolled out.
Peoples current stress levels are certainly being exacerbated by the global pandemic. But stress will be forever part of our lives. I’m not sure it’s possible to get your negative stress level down to zero, but, considering the negative effect stress can have on one’s health and the economy, we need to do what we can to reduce it. The suggestions listed above are as good a place as any t o get started.