Our organization is going through change which is causing unbearable stress. Everyone is uptight. I am concerned about the effects of stress on our team, individually and our future success. What do you suggest?
–Frantic with Panic
Dear Frantic with Panic,
Even the news can bring on feelings of fear and uncertainty with reports of homes in foreclosure, bankrupt businesses and government spending out of control. Often when we focus on negative reports our stress is compounded. Here are some practical solutions for coping with stress.
Know What Stress Is and Its Effects
In 1956, McGraw-Hill released Dr. Hans Selye’s book entitled The Stress of Life. It was based on his pioneering and revolutionary concepts of stress and its effects on us. Dr. Selye, often called, the father of the stress theory, defined stress as “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it.” The “demand” can be a threat, a challenge or any kind of change which requires us to adapt. This reaction results from an outpouring of adrenaline and other hormones that causes your blood pressure to increase, your heart to beat faster and your lungs to take in more air. Stress hormones actually give you extra strength and mental acuity for a few moments. These changes in the body are intended to be a natural defense called the “fight-or-flight response”. Some stress is healthy and helps us perform at higher levels, but when the stress response occurs too frequently or goes on consistently over time, those hormones that were meant to save your life begin to destroy your health. They can lead to headaches, depression, anxiety, obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and all kinds of illnesses. He causes of stress though many can be classified in two general groups: situations we can control and those that are uncontrollable or beyond our skill or knowledge. What we can control is our response to the circumstance. By practicing these stress- reducing habits we can lower the adverse effects of stress on ourselves and our organizations.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to what is going on moment to moment. It is slowing down, focusing on one activity at a time and enjoying the present moment. The inverse would be attending a staff meeting and your thoughts are focused on the tasks that await you after. It is difficult to relax and listen when you are anxious or thinking about the future, by not practicing mindfulness you could miss critical information.
Practice an “attitude of gratitude.” There is a peacefulness that comes when we stop and give thanks. I suggest creating a list identifying at least twenty specific things, great and small for which you are grateful. Make your list a part of your mental dialogue every day.
Reframing is taking thoughts; past, present or future, challenging them and choosing to see them from a fresh perspective. A powerful example of reframing is the story of Viktor Frankl, a Jewish Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. Dr. Frankl’s circumstances looked dismal but he knew the power within him. He had a freedom that even the Nazi captors could not take from him. This freedom was his power to choose his response. Like Frankl, we have the power to reframe and to see on the other side of the circumstances and envision the positive.
Create a habit of humor instead of worry. Worry is paying for something you may never get. Studies prove laughter boosts your immune system and lowers the levels of stress hormones. A merry heart is a great weapon against stress.
A wise way to de-stress is to build in margin. Margin is the buffer between panic and peace. When we fail to schedule adequate time between meetings, activities or events, we set ourselves up to experience stress. Building margin in your schedule, your finances, and other areas will prevent unnecessary stress.
No one would expect an athlete to play an entire game without taking a break, yet statistics show that the average American is working an additional three hours per week compared with 20 years ago. That translates into an extra month per year. One of the first symptoms of distress is fatigue, which we tend to ignore. By taking quick time-outs during the day we can avoid exhaustion.
There are many other ways to cope with the daily stresses of this world, like getting plenty of sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, drinking filtered water, reducing caffeine, regular exercise, meditation, music, breathing and taking a vacation. I consider one of the greatest ways to reduce your stress level is to take the focus off your own circumstances and go fulfill a need for someone else. It puts things into perspective.
Tammy Holyfield is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker and Founder of Holyfield International, a business and personal development company. Her mission is to teach, empower and equip people to live their best life every day. Tammy teaches techniques and strategies that are easy to understand and put to use immediately to achieve greater results. Connect with Tammy on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tammyholyfield or email her firstname.lastname@example.org