Stress Management 101

We’re living through tough times. Unemployment is rising worldwide, many companies are doing massive layoffs, some are being bought off and others are simply going out of business. Those who are still in business are struggling to ensure quarterly growth to stockholders. This situation creates an increasing pressure upon corporate employees, so being effective in managing stress is quickly becoming a fundamental trait – one that no one can afford to do without.

So, what do I mean by “managing stress” ?

First of all, I don’t think that all stress is bad. The right amount of stress can help us find the drive to address those big issues and achieve bold goals. However, when stress reaches toxic levels we might find ourselves utterly incapable of tackling even the simplest daily task. The thing about stress is that we usually tend to ignore it until it’s too late and our stress level is already toxic – damaging self-esteem, draining energy and eroding relationships. It’s fundamental to recognize signs of stress and actively engage them. The table below contains a few examples I’ve compiled from several sources.

Physical
Affecting your normal physical condition

Mental
Affecting your normal mental abilities

Social
Affecting your normal interactions with others

  • Anxiety (pounding heart, elevated blood pressure, sweating)
  • Muscle tension or headaches
  • Sleep disturbances (can’t sleep, sleep too much, unusual sleeping hours)
  • Skin rashes
  • Stomach problems
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trembling or other tics (i.e. muscular spasms, eye twitching)
  • Changes in eating patterns (eating too much or too little)
  • Drinking more alcohol
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Increased smoking
  • Lack of concentration
  • Low productivity
  • Indecisiveness
  • Mind racing or going blank
  • Resistance to change
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Irritability and impatience
  • Envy
  • Apathy or loss of interest in your work
  • Social withdrawal
  • Aggressive driving

Table 1: Signs of stress

Of course, different people worry about different things and deal with stress in different ways, but we usually become stressful due to a feeling of lack of control. To some people control comes in the form of meticulous planning. To others it’s just the opposite. Besides the feeling of lack of control, stress is also usually amplified by premature worrying, that is, worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. Ever felt like this?

We all know that bad things really do happen (even to nice people). But we still have to make sure that, no matter what we’re worried about, we do so proportionately to the situation in question. If the situation warrants a high degree of concern then we can use this additional stress to tackle the issue at hand in a productive and effective manner.

Although stress is not exclusive to the workplace, it happens that most of our lives and, consequently, our human interactions happen in the workplace. As such, workplace stress has become a serious concern among several international health organizations.

Workplace stress is commonly defined as the harmful physical and emotional response that can erupt when there is a conflict between what is demanded of someone and the level of control that person has over when and how to meet those expectations.

Workplace stress often occurs when the demands of the job and the working environment on a person exceed their capacity to meet them.

There are many situations that factor into this, acting as stressors in the workplace. Typically, the “pressure to perform” means an increasing effort to meet rising expectations with no increase (or even a decrease) in job satisfaction.

This relentless requirement to work at optimum performance takes its toll in the organization producing low job satisfaction, reduced efficiency, among other consequences. At the individual employee level consequences include absenteeism, poor decision-making, indifference, lack of motivation and creativity and, in more extreme cases, illness, alcoholism or other addictions.

Impact of stress in job satisfaction

Figure 1: Effort to meet expectations vs job satisfaction over time

Additionally, stress that the person is experiencing at home (marital difficulties, financial problems) also adds to the equation and, as I’ve mentioned previously (see “Balancing Work and Personal Life”), we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a stable personal life in our work performance.

So, understanding the nature of work related stress (particularly it’s symptoms) is a first step. This awareness can trigger the realization that we might be needing a break to step back, look at the big picture, assess and weigh our options and determine a course of action that steers us away from toxically stressful situations.

References

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Balancing Work And Personal Life

[…] work/life balance is about working smarter, not longer.

Balanced Rocks Every once in a while, in all of the companies I’ve worked for, I’ve heard or got mail from HR talking about work/life balance. I’ve heard so much about it that it became almost like a mantra.

Why has work/life balance become such an important factor in the modern workplace?

Perhaps it has to do with overcoming remnants of the 80’s yuppie work culture, set by the late Baby Boomers and early Gen X’s, where working long hours was seen as something worthy of praise (think of Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”). Thinking about it, I can’t help to relate this to that late industrialist mindset where production is directly related to the number of hours spent in production.

Personally I think that work/life balance is about working smarter, not longer. In the modern, knowledge workplace, it’s all about performance, not productivity. Most modern workplaces should produce value and not quantity. Quantity, or mass production, only scales as much as your workforce. Production of value, on the other hand, can scale much more with even a small workforce.

So what does this mean to later generation Gen X’s and especially Gen Y’s, the knowledge workers of the modern workplace?

I have to admit that I find myself in a constant struggle to achieve a good work/life balance, experiencing moments where it seems I’ve got it and moments where I realize I haven’t. However, from the moments that felt like I’ve got it, I’ve come to realize the following:

First of all, work and personal life can and should be complementary. No one can be truly fulfilled if he or she only focuses on one dimension of life. More importantly, we have to acknowledge both the importance a healthy work environment plays in the stability of our personal lives, and the importance a healthy personal and family life has on our work performance.

To achieve this, we have to be able to balance professional and personal goals. What I’ve found out was that I had clear business goals, but didn’t have any clearly set personal goals. We tend to pursue those goals we can track, so a lack of clearly established personal goals makes it much more likely that we focus on our work, overlooking our personal lives.

Additionally, to reach our personal and business goals, we have to effectively leverage our skills in both areas. We all have skills that we can use or apply to situations in our personal lives with the same level of success that we do at work. The opposite is also true. Many skills that we use in our personal lives can be leveraged effectively in the workplace. Think about the way you educate your children, or how you contribute to your community. I’m sure all of us can can find examples that apply here.

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