when it comes to dealing with stress, you're either good at it, or you're not.
But it's not a competition, and stress can cause many different symptoms...
Stress can affect how you feel physically, mentally and also how you behave.
Whether you're feeling stressed out due to work pressure, personal issues or a global pandemic, we’ve all had moments in our lives where the stress can feel overwhelming. If left unchecked, stress can have a huge impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, and although it is near impossible to live a life completely free of stress, there are ways to help control how you respond to it.
To help us navigate through life’s inevitable challenges, many of us can benefit from learning how to manage external pressures, avoid and limit the frequency of stressful situations, and develop our emotional resilience.
Recognising the WARNING signs of stress
Everyone experiences stress differently, that's why being able to recognise the signs, not only in yourself but in your employees, can help you to approach the issue proactively before it leads to burnout.
Common feelings of stress CAN include:
- Irritability, aggressiveness or feeling wound up
- Anxious, nervous or afraid
- Unable to “switch off”
- Neglected or lonely
When these feeling arise, people can often:
- Struggle to make decisions
- Snap at colleagues or customers
- Struggle to concentrate
- Eat too much or too little
- Smoke or drink alcohol more than usual
- Become more emotional or cry
Look out for physical symptoms of stress such as:
- Shallow breathing or hyperventilating
- Panic attacks
- Blurred vision
- Problems sleeping
- Teeth grinding or jaw clenching
- Chest pains
- Upset stomach
- High blood pressure
By following some of the strategies below, you can control your reaction to stressful situations, manage undesirable behaviours and limit the symptoms. Just like our reactions to stress, what works as a stress relief for one person, may not help another.
So, having a number of different coping mechanisms to use will help you find the right strategy to assist in the different situations you or your employees may be dealing with. Let's start with eight practical tips you can start using right away:
1. Address some of the causes of stress
Thinking that you can’t do anything about a problem will only allow your stress to get worse. Passivity and inertia actually contributes to stress. Deciding to take control of your situation is an empowering act that will help to manage any feelings over overwhelm.
2. accept what you can't control
Depending on what is causing you stress, some situations will be out of your control to handle. When you find yourself stressed by something you cannot manage, refocus your time and energy on what you can influence and learn to accept what you can’t.
3. manage your time effectively
Shaping up your daily to-do list in order of priority will allow you to concentrate on the tasks that matter most.
Work through bigger tasks when your energy levels are at an optimum. Clearing the more challenging responsibilities earlier on in the day will allow you to feel more in control and less stressed.
When prioritising tasks, balance your more interesting tasks with the more mundane or taxing ones – try not to take too much on. To-do lists are a great way to manage your upcoming activities and commitments without getting overwhelmed. Be realistic about the time you have to complete your tasks and accept that you won’t always be able to clear your list in a day.
Building breaks into your schedule, although it may feel counterproductive when you’re feeling stressed, can actually boost your productivity when you need to concentrate.
4. take care of your physical health
Regular exercise is great for your physical wellbeing as well as helping to reduce the emotional intensity caused by stress. By being active, you can clear your head and approach problems with a calm attitude.
A good night’s sleep can also improve your ability to manage difficult situations. Create a healthy sleep routine by going to bed around the same time each night and limiting screen time before bed - giving your mind a chance to relax before attempting to try and fall asleep.
5. find a balance
Making an active decision to balance your work and personal life can help ease the pressure you may be experiencing by finding ways to switch off and relax. This may be making time to visit family and friends, pursuing a hobby or relaxing in your own space with a good book and having some “me” time.
Socialising with friends and family can reduce any feelings of isolation. By connecting to a network of trusted individuals, you’ll feel connected and able to discuss any difficulties you’re facing. This may not only help find a solution to something you’ve been struggling with, but can also help keep things in perspective. Laughing and smiling also helps to produce hormones which help you to relax.
Businesses can take an active role by encouraging healthy habits within the workplace to help employees feel less pressured to work long hours or skip lunch breaks through creating a strong and positive work environment.
6. be kind to yourself
Learning to take a break and recognise when you’re feeling stressed can be one of the best solutions to managing stress.
When you’re in a difficult situation, make an effort to get a change of scenery – a quick walk away from work can help you come back with a much clearer head to tackle the rest of your to do list or the challenge at hand.
Remember to reward yourself for your achievements. Even if it’s a small achievement, such as completing a task or making a decision, take the time to simply tell yourself “well done” or treating yourself with a break to do something you enjoy. By taking the time to acknowledge your progress, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come and gain perspective on your development.
7. resolve conflicts
Even though acknowledging an issue can lead to difficult conversations, it’s important to speak to your manager, colleague, or loved one to help find ways in which you can resolve the problems you are having.
If you’re facing an internal conflict – such as if you’ve made a mistake, forgive yourself. Remember, you're only human and no one is perfect, so putting extra pressure on yourself won’t help. Instead of becoming annoyed with yourself, set a new goal or challenge to help build up your confidence and knowledge so you can learn from your experiences.
By continuing to learn, you are able to become more emotionally resilient and better equipped to tackle any stress in the future.
8. ask for help
Knowing how to ask for help will prevent stressful situations from snowballing out of control.
At work, find out what protocols are in place to allow you to escalate issues if need be. Organisations that create a healthy and happy workplace culture do so by having clear lines of communication so that employees are not surprised by the unknown, and they feel supported by their peers and managers.
Employers who are looking to provide more support can do so by taking a proactive approach to employees’ physical and mental wellbeing. Offering health and wellbeing initiatives and introducing Employee Assistance Programmes will encourage employees to create healthy habits and take advantage of the resources and advice available to them. As a result, your people will handle and prevent stress much more effectively.
take the next step...
If you are concerned about stress within your organisation,download your free Employee Burnout cheat sheet to help provide more practical tips that HR professionals and managers can put in place to support their team during times of stress.