Stress affects one in five of the working population from the shop floor to the board room. 105 million days are lost every year; costing British employers £1.24 billion per annum. (Source: Health & Safety Executive).
Stress is something that seems to easily rear its head in the modern working world. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to deal with stress more effectively?
Here we give you 10 simple tips to dealing with, and overcoming, stress in the workplace.
We tend to think of stress as a phenomenon of the modern working environment, but it might surprise you to know that people have been studying stress for nearly a century. It was Walter Cannon way back in 1932 who introduced the “Fight or Flight” theory
The strange thing about stress is that we all experience it at different times but we find it very hard to articulate exactly what it is. The most commonly accepted definition of stress comes from the late Richard S Lazarus, an eminent psychologist. In his book “Psychological stress and the coping process” published in 1966 he states that “stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” In other words, we feel stressed when we are not in control of events.
I want to introduce you to Albrecht’s Four Types of Stress. Dr Karl Albrecht introduced this model in “Stress & the Manager – making it work for you” in 1979. Albrecht wrote that “most of the chronic stress experienced by twentieth century Americans comes from anxiety”.
Albrecht identified four types of stress:
I wonder how many of these you have experienced?
This is the anxiety caused by believing that you will run out of time. No doubt you will have been in situations where a deadline is looming. The very fact that time is running out raises your levels of anxiety (or stress).
This area of stress can be overcome by effective time management.
Simple “to do” lists are a good way to start. Far too often we try to store all our tasks in our heads. They get jumbled up and our brains almost feel like they will explode! Moreover, when everything is in our head it is hard to determine what is important or what sequence things should be completed in. So, whilst a “to do” list is very simple it is also a fantastic way of getting everything out of our heads and onto paper where we can see them.
Steven Covey’s “Urgent / Important” matrix is an easy to use tool to help you prioritise your work. It allows you to “dig where the diamonds are” but it also enables you to jettison some of the stuff that really is not important in your job or life.
Time stress is also forced upon us as we have more and more tasks dropped on us by others. This “monkey on the shoulder” syndrome can best be countered by increasing your assertiveness.
This is an anxiety about forthcoming events.
Many of us will have experienced the situation where we worry that “something” will go wrong before a task or event or that a person won’t like us or that there are bound to be better candidates for a job.
For the last 12 years, I have been helping people improve their confidence in Public Speaking. Time and time again, I have worked with people who have a long list of scenarios that they fear might happen. The reality is that most of these fears never come to pass. Although, some fears, if dwelt upon enough do come about. If you are constantly thinking that you will drop your notes during your presentation you will. This is “The Law of Attraction” which is featured in the book “The Secret”. What you dwell upon is attracted into your life.
So why not attract success into your life instead? In the “The Secret”, Dr. Denis Waitley described the following powerful study of visualisation:
“I took the visualization process from the Apollo program, and instituted it during the 1980’s and ‘90’s into the Olympic programme. It was called Visual Motor Rehearsal. When you visualize then you materialize. Here’s an interesting thing about the mind: we took Olympic athletes and had them run their event only in their mind, and then hooked them up to sophisticated biofeedback equipment. Incredibly, the same muscles fired in the same sequence when they were running the race in their mind as when they were running it on the track. How could this be? Because the mind cannot distinguish whether you’re really doing it or whether it is just practise. If you’ve been there in the mind you’ll go there in the body.”
Dr. Waitley firmly believes that if you practise in your mind, you will go there in the body.
There are some other tips to overcoming anticipatory stress:
Contingency planning is a way of looking at the potential problems and developing a “plan B”. Just by having that contingency plan allows you to overcome stress by knowing that even if a problem occurs (and, let’s face it, they do) you have an action plan which means that you retain control of the situation.
Meditation is a wonderful way to restore a level of calm to your mind and body. I am currently following a daily meditation programme from Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey (https://chopracentermeditation.com/) which has had an enormous impact on the way I am dealing with the challenges and stresses in a busy life!
Finally, sometimes we just need to learn to cope with failure. I saw a statistic that showed that the best strikers in the premiership score less than a third of the shots they take on goal. By any statistical measure they are failures but we don’t think they are. They accept that they cannot score every time. In 2012, Catherine Grainger won an Olympic gold at rowing. Yet this success came after failures to secure gold at the three previous Olympic Games. She just accepted that failing happens sometimes on the road to success. Vincent Lombardi summed it up perfectly with the words:”It’s not whether you get knocked down but whether you get up.”
This type of stress, according to Albrecht, is when we actually have lost control of a situation. Redundancy, grief and personal conflicts all tend to fall into this type of stress.
Just like King Canute trying in vain to stop the sea coming in, we cannot always prevent a situation from happening. But what we can control is the way that we respond to the situation.
If you recall Richard Lazarus’ definition of stress, it is when we are not in control of a situation.
By increasing our self awareness it helps us to understand our weaknesses and to be aware of the triggers that stress us out and how we can turn the situation from a position of weakness to a position of strength.
We can also, on a practical level, learn how to manage conflict in the workplace (or maybe it is outside the workplace too).
Often we feel that a situation is out of control when a colleague (or probably a boss) acts in an aggressive manner. This aggression, verging on bullying, is definitely a reason that some people feel stressed at work. Rather like in Time Stress, learning to become more assertive and less passive will help regain control of a situation and this particular form of stress.
The fourth type of stress identified by Dr Karl Albrecht is called “Encounter stress”.
As the name implies, this stress revolves around people.
Sometimes our interaction with a particular person or group of people is stressful in itself.
This may be because we don’t like them – we often hear people saying that someone always “puts them on edge”. Alternatively, stress levels can be raised because the person that you are dealing with is unpredictable. A third reason for people increasing your stress is that the person is in distress themselves. Think of people in the health professions. They are dealing with people in pain or maybe they have to give them bad news. Either way the person being dealt with will be in some form of distress. If you go to a completely different arena, say call centres, you will also find customers calling in some form of distress (normally a complaint, but not always).
The final reason that people can raise stress levels is simply because you can get to a point of “contact overload”. Those of you who are aware of Myers Briggs personality types might recall that some people are “I’s”. They prefer to reflect on information before making decisions. If a person with this personality type is in an environment with loads of extroverts it can, after a while, feel quite overwhelming.
The tips for overcoming this type of stress are similar to “Situational Stress”. Developing your emotional intelligence and self awareness will be a key tactic.
Extending that self-awareness to understanding how other people “tick” then becomes a powerful tool. This could be by simply understanding Myers-Briggs personality types or getting a team to have an MBTI assessment. Learning about the 5 stages of grief is also a useful tool. Whilst this model was originally designed to help people understand bereavement it is now widely used to understand how people deal with trauma’s in their lives.
Stress is a huge issue in the workplace. It costs lost days and hits the bottom line. Whilst it is important for employers to try to reduce the levels of stress in the work place, as Richard Lazarus argues, stress is about when we feel that events are out of our control. Based upon this it is hard to see how employers can reduce stress by themselves.
And anyway, how long are we willing to wait for our organisation to change.
What we can do, however, is take actions ourselves. By taking action, developing our skills, gaining greater degrees of self awareness we can begin to take control of the events in our lives for ourselves.
Our 10 tips to overcoming stress are: