10 tips to overcoming stress
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 manifests itself in many different ways and often creeps upon us long before we realise it’s there. Rather like the storm clouds that have unexpectedly caught me out a few times this week! In today’s blog post 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:
- Time Stress
- Anticipatory Stress
- Situational Stress
- Encounter Stress
Let’s explore each one and find some tips for overcoming stress.
1. Time Stress
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. Specifically learning two key strategies: setting boundaries and learning how to say no.
2. Anticipatory Stress
This is an anxiety about forthcoming events. Many of us will have experienced the situation where we worry that “something” will go wrong.
If we focus for too long on what might happen, we unfortunately get caught up in a cycle of doom. 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’ve 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.Check out apps such as Calm and HeadSpace and follow Deepak Chopra and his wonderful work – www.deepakchopra.com
Finally, sometimes we just need to learn to cope with failure. 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.”
3. Situational Stress
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 helps us to understand our reaction. We need 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. Tuning into our feelings and our emotions enables us to start to shift our perspective and find different approaches (deep breathing, pausing, journaling).
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.
4. Encounter Stress
The fourth type of stress identified by Dr Karl Albrecht is called “Encounter stress”. This is where you worry about interacting with a particular person or a particular group of people. You often find a particular person difficult to deal with, you may not like them, or this person or group you have to interact with have often shown themselves as unpredictable in how they respond to your dealings with them.
If your role involves a lot of personal interactions with customers or clients then encounter stress can be major, especially if your organisations products or services have problems.
Alternatively, stress levels can be raised because the person that you are dealing with is unpredictable or 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 change 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.
The Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Stress
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:
- Start “to do” lists
- Prioritise your work
- Increase your assertiveness skills
- Develop visualisation techniques
- Work up contingency plans
- Practise meditation
- Learn to cope with failure.
- Develop your ability to manage conflict
- Use Myers Briggs (MBTI) to build better inter-personal relationships
- Increase yourself awareness and Emotional Intelligence.