Three Tips for Leaders on how to Reduce Their Workplace-Related Stress
As I shared with you in the previous blog post on How Leaders Can Benefit From Mindfulness Practices, the American Institute of Stress (AIS) website notes that, “Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated precariously over the past few decades.”
As a result, leaders must not only deal with their own personal stress levels, but they are also accountable for monitoring and managing the stress levels of their staffs. Here are three tips for leaders on how to reduce their workplace-related stress and improve workplace wellbeing. I will share another three techniques with you in the next blog post.
Understand the normalcy of anxiety. Everyone has moments of anxiety. Unfortunately, worrying about your feelings of anxiety only serves to intensify and prolong those anxious feelings. Research shows that people who focus on their personal strengths and personal coping mechanisms (such as self-talk or recalling memories of past successes) in moments of anxiety can significantly decrease the strength and length of such feelings.
On the other hand, those who designated their anxious feelings as a personal weakness and deficiency actually raise their levels of anxiety and reduce their levels of self-confidence.
Stay connected with peers and friends. Networking, both internally and externally, is good for emotional wellbeing and quality of life. Many leaders isolate themselves, fearing that any inadequacies or self-doubts will be visible to others.
Interacting with peers or friends is one way for leaders to allow themselves to be vulnerable and express their tightly held fears in a safe and trusting environment. It is also a great way to be reminded that none of us is infallible or free of errors and mistakes, which can help reduce the angst surrounding the tougher decisions we face.
Focus on priorities. It is very easy for leaders to allow their calendars to be filled by others, to get swamped by the minutiae of daily decision making, and to get derailed by urgent matters taking priority over important tasks. Unfortunately, crossing out 10 or 15 small decisions off your task list is unlikely to produce the significant results that come from one strategic decision made after hours of focused contemplation and analysis.
Years ago I divided my to-do list into two separate lists, one of which has the 5-6 major priorities I am working on (such as writing this book) and the other containing my list of getting “stuff” done. That GSD list receives a greatly reduced prioritization in my life, other than when specific deadlines (like a friend’s birthday or the payment due dates on bills) give them immediacy or urgency.
Leaders who delegate more and micromanage less create more time for the priorities in their professional and personal lives. They also carve out more time, and more mental energy, for contemplating the bigger issues and decisions confronting them.
The Impact of Prolonged Stress on Leaders
Prolonged periods of stress or moments when stress levels are at extremely elevated levels are extremely dangerous and unhealthy for leaders, particularly if these are workplace related. In addition to increasing the risk of heart disease, depression, hypertension, and obesity, this kind of stress decreases cognitive performance. This impact can affect memory recall and cause disruptions to a person’s decision-making processes.
When we are exposed to long periods of stress (as many leaders are today), increased levels of glucose and fatty acids in our blood significantly raise the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. A study at University College London concluded that stress also raises cholesterol levels, another known factor that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
It is obvious that too much stress is bad for overall health, and this includes the overall health of the brain. A study conducted at Yale University recently found that prolonged stress causes degeneration in the area of the brain responsible for self-control. That is why drug use and alcohol abuse sends overly stressed people down the slippery slope of self-destruction. Their extreme and continuous periods of stress disable their abilities to exercise self-control over their drug and alcohol usage.
If the stress experience is too overwhelming for the usual memory retrieval and processing of the situation, our brains instinctively shift to survival mode. In survival mode, memories and previous response patterns developed in reaction to prior stressful experiences can hijack our emotional and cognitive responses. This often leads to behaviors, actions, and verbal outbursts which do not fit the circumstances and which do not help to alleviate the situation.
All leaders need to start taking immediate steps to reduce workplace-related stress, both for themselves and for the people they lead. Not doing so has long-term negative consequences for themselves, their team members, and their organizations.
This article is partially excerpted from my award-winning book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The book is the recipient of a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association for bringing “a comprehensive plan of action for improving life through recognizing decision-making patterns that don’t serve us well, don’t enrich our lives, and don’t bring us to our goals and dreams.”