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Stress is Contagious, So is Calm

Stress doesn’t feel good to have, nor does it feel good to be around. Eighty percent of regular workers say they feel stress during their day. In many companies, stress feels baked into the work culture, everyone know about it and acknolwedges it most of us don’t know how to counteract it.

Like any contagion, stress spreads. We literally catch the stress of others. Simply watching someone else tense up can trigger the release of th stress hormone cortisol in us. Common situations for most employees include:

-When another colleague gets stressed, they try to avoid them.
-They read stress on the faces of others and use this as an excuse to avoid them.
-When one manager gets wound up with stress, it has the same effect on those around them.
-They are concerned about the health of colleagues due to stress.

While the damage that stress causes us individually is accepted, few consider the negative impact of their stress on others. This is amplified, especially if you’re a manager. In fact, a leader’s stress is felt acutely as it can impact the emotion of an entire team. People avoid stressed-out colleagues for their own protection. If people don’t want to be around you, if they don’t find you collaborative or rewarding to work with, you will be far less effective. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to collaborate with people who seem sturdy and resilient? Let’s have a look at some practical step you can to identify and deal with stress.

Know what stresses you

When people talk about what stresses them, they tend to describe generalities like “my job” or “unrealistic deadlines” or “the new boss.” We don’ typically dive deeply into the triggers, because we’d rather not go there. However, we can’t solve what we don’t truly understand.

Try this: keep a stress journal for one month. At the end of each day, jot down when you felt stressed, including details about the specific situation and what was happening at the time. Reflect on these questions: What conditions caused me to feel stressed today? What about the situation fel important at the time? How was the situation meaningful to me? Sometimes, steps we take to reduce stress can have the unintended consequences of triggering more stress. If a manager says they are going to take a hands-off approach to manage the stress load, they can find this is actually worsening their stress because they lose visibility into how projects are progressing.

By uncovering what’s causing you stress, you can develop workable solutions to address the sources and not just the symptoms. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson describe in their book It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work how excessive workloads are touted as badges of honor in many organisations, even as employees complain about how overwork is detrimental to their well-being.

In fact, the top goal of many affected by stress is to get a handle on their workload by finding strategies that reduce the amount of work, such as better delegation or expectation setting. But this on its own is rarely enough. You can make adjustments, but there will always be more work. Instead, start by examining how you feel about the workload. Do you feel compelled to be perfect? Are you prone to second-guessing yourself? Is there a pattern in your career of not saying no to requests?

Create pockets of sanity

Every job has busy periods when the best strategy is to hunke down and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. But this can become very difficult when your work never seems to let up. If your job doesn’t have natural breaks, create recover periods for yourself. These can be organised around common stressors like business travel or key meetings, or spaced at regular intervals. Be as vigilant (and guilt-free) at scheduling activities that relax you as those that are work-related.

Saying you’re stressed isn’t going to help on its own

Because stress is so prevalent atwork, we talk about it — a lot. While sharing our stress can make us feel better momentarily, we’re actually contributing to a stressful culture because emotion spreads. In short, saying “I’m so stressed” increases stress for other people. Plus, what we focus on gets stronger, so we can even increase our own stress by talking about it. This doesn’t mean that you should be inauthentic. A more helpful approach is to share that, while work is stressful, you’re trying to manage yourself so it has less of an impact. By sharing strategies you’re employing, you model for others that it’s acceptable to push back against stress instead of accepting it. As a bonus, if you state what you’re doing out loud, you’re more likely to follow through on your commitments.

For instance, a manager instructing his or her team to refrain from checking or responding to emails during the evening or at weekends, means that others are relieved of the pressure to respond. Therefore their entire team exercise more caution about sending emails on the weekend, clearly marking what was truly urgent, and people can then start showing up to work more refreshed on Monday.

Plan for stress by planning around it

While most of us have accepted the idea of stress at work, we still feel surprisingly besieged by it. We can even have meta-stress — where we stress about having stress. Perhaps a better solution is to consider it the norm and plan for it. Jobs are stressful, industries are turbulent, and ther are rarely enough resources or time. If that’s the case, how can you keep from adding to the churn and swirl? What are ways you can sustain your own energy and that of others? We’re not as helpless as we might think. By exercising your own sense of agency, you can reduce your own stress and show others how to do the same. You might just shift the culture. Because while stress may be contagious, so is calm.

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