Stress In The Workplace Identify It And Prevent It
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Get Out Of Your "Funk" And Back To Flourishing

Is it the house, the spouse, the cars, and the kids that people think of when they "have it all"? That could be the highest level of achievement for some. For others, living the dream could be a different scenario. We are all unique, which is part of what makes life fun. How we define stress is likely different as well.

Imagine being a contestant on the television game show Family Feud. It's your turn up at the podium representing your team, and you do not want to let them down. The game show host starts by saying, "The top 5 answers are on the board. What are the most stressful jobs?" Your hand hits the buzzer before your opponent and you blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind. What was your answer? High-stress jobs could be a police officer, an air traffic controller, a firefighter, a fighter pilot, a surgeon, etc. Would a kindergarten teacher make your list? Or a press secretary? What may be stressful and cause high levels of anxiety for one person may not apply to another, as we are all unique and respond to challenges in our own way.

According to a poll done by The Marlin Company, "The vast majority of American workers say that they are stressed."

  • 42% say job pressures are interfering with their family or personal lives
  • 35% say their job is negatively affecting their physical or emotional wellbeing
  • 42% say they at least sometimes do not have adequate control or input over their work duties

Although some people feel that on-the-job stress is real, others think people should get over it and do their job. Clearly, that is not as easy as it sounds. So how can we start to unwind the stress and bring these numbers down?

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is key. Psychologist and healthcare consultant Patrick Swift, Ph.D. points out that one of the first things a person can do is "acknowledge the stress. Then, taking a deep breath and checking in with yourself can calm the nerves. And if you have a boss or coworker telling you to just get over it, know their words may be more a reflection of their diminished emotional intelligence, rather than a reflection of how stressed you really are!"

The Importance Of Discussing Stress And Anxiety In The Workplace

Discussing stress and anxiety in the workplace was considered taboo for a long time. To admit feeling stressed or having anxiety may lead others to believe that one is incompetent to do their job. While many people are still not comfortable sharing such personal information, organizations recognize that stress and anxiety are challenges. Still, they also lead to other numerous problems. For example, headaches, insomnia, and chronic illnesses are some health issues that can be signs of stress overload. In addition, in the workplace, stress and anxiety can lead to diminished productivity, excessive absence, and employee churn, all of which have a negative impact on the bottom line.

According to a report by SHRM, "8 in 10 workers say they are stressed by at least one thing at work. About 1 in 2 workers in low-paying jobs say their job has a negative effect on their stress levels, while about 4 in 10 in medium and high-paying jobs say the same." Mental health symptoms do not discriminate. Any job can produce stress and anxiety for workers.

"Leaving stress and anxiety unaddressed can lead to even greater problems so why not do something about it now?" asks Dr. Swift. "Self-care is directly related to how well we care for others. So if someone is reluctant to take care of themselves, sometimes it can help them to find motivation knowing that it helps the ones they love too."

In places like New York and Los Angeles, the relationship between job stress and heart attacks is so well acknowledged that any police officer who suffers a coronary event on or off the job is assumed to have a work-related injury and is compensated accordingly. Likewise, in corporate America, stress and anxiety are just as expected in the executive leadership team as with individual contributors.

During a time when many of us are working from home, coworkers and managers might not realize a person they work closely with is experiencing extreme anxiety or stress levels. Here are the warning signs that may suggest a person could need assistance:

  • A drop in performance and/or productivity
  • Excessive missed days of work
  • Not appearing engaged in work
  • Physical complaints, like sweating, upset stomach [1], and not sleeping well (without another explanation)

Now is the time when it is even more critical for managers to have interpersonal and communication skills to help their direct reports emerge from this historical time as healthy as possible.

How should a leader broach the subject with an employee they suspect is experiencing debilitating pressures and fears? They can start by building relationships steeped in open and honest communication. Recent research [2] suggests that employees who felt their managers were not good at communicating have been 23% more likely than others to experience a mental health decline. By stepping out of the comfort zone first, a leader who shares their weaknesses and strengths can show their team that it is alright to come forward with their challenges.

How To Help Prevent Workplace Stress

How managers can help prevent or minimize workplace stress and anxiety:

  • Be transparent with your team to build trust with them
  • Communicate expectations clearly and confirm that they are realistic
  • Offer flexibility when it comes to when and where your team works
  • Ensure that workers have the knowledge, abilities, skills, and support to complete their job responsibilities
  • Promote making time for exercise—even a short walk outside can change perspective; sunshine and fresh air can do wonders for us mentally and physically
  • Create opportunities for collaboration and connectedness
  • Share the company's resources that are available regarding mental health

There is an "in-between" emotion that many of us are experiencing that we have a hard time putting our finger on. We may not feel that we have anxiety, but we do not feel settled and secure either. Most of us would agree that this feeling of being in a funk is neither burnout nor depression. The New York Times [3] calls this "languishing [4].'' "Languishing" is a sense of stagnation and is the neglected middle child of mental health. It's the void between depression and flourishing—the absence of well-being [5].

"When consulting with leaders, I help them make a distinction between implicit and explicit behaviors, knowing that both are necessary," says Dr. Swift. "A leader not only has to say self-care is important and talk about it with their team but also walk the talk and demonstrate it in their actions. If a manager is talking a good game but not leading by example, then things are going to get funky, and not in a good way."

Finding Your "Flow"

How can we get out of our funk and back to flourishing? The first thing we can do is to find our "flow" again. Flow at work happens when we are fully immersed in a project or task. Flow brings happiness to our work, and it not only reduces stress but increases our productivity. Flow helps us feel in control and focused on accomplishing our goals, which leads to satisfaction and a feeling of achievement. When we move in these positive directions, we are navigating ourselves away from the stress and anxiety that were causing us to "languish" and back toward fulfillment in our work.

Flow has become elusive as our distractions have become more significant. Phones in hand or pocket make us accessible all day and sometimes all night. We check email, LinkedIn, Twitter, our kids' school apps, grades, scores, etc. As a result, we are distracted now more than ever.

How to help yourself find your flow in your job:

  • Set small work goals that are challenging but obtainable
  • Find a quiet, uninterrupted time and then practice extending the time you can stay focused
  • Eliminate distractions
  • Find ways to feel more in control of your situation

"The bottom line is that if stress is inhibiting your ability to perform your work or be your best self with your family, then it's important to embrace self-care," says Dr. Swift. "And if the stress is jeopardizing your career or your relationships, then you may need to engage a professional to help you. But help can't help you if you don't ask for it."

It is important to remember that what works for one person to combat stress may not work for someone else. So do some soul searching to find out what will work for you so that you can find your way back to "living the dream"!

References:

[1] Nausea and Vomiting

[2] 8 Ways managers can support employees’ mental health

[3] There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing

[4] The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life

[5] Complete mental health: An agenda for the 21st century.

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