By Caroline Creedon
How to Regulate Stress in the Workplace
Did you know 50% of all Australians experience a mental health condition?
It might sound shocking, but in fact, it’s actually quite a modest figure… this is based only on cases we’re aware of. Think of it this way – At least half the people in every room you’re ever in experience some sort of mental health hurdle. As leaders, it’s something to be aware of not just for yourself but for your team.
I sat down with Jess Jasch from Talent United to learn how to better deal with stress in the workplace, particularly as a leader.
With a background in yoga and communications, Jess is an expert at mitigating high-stress situations. Stress regulation and emotional awareness are two key aspects of leadership that often get overlooked amidst all the results and revenue but don’t worry, we’re about to dive deep into both.
I want to start by saying your employee’s mental health isn’t your responsibility. But it is important to be mindful of how your leadership can impact them (both positively and negatively). No one’s asking you to be a therapist. But to support your team the best way you can (and ultimately help them be their most productive selves), you do need to be considerate.
The most common cause of burnout is the biological response to stress. The stress response essentially pushes you into a tunnel where you have one of two options:
Now, which of those two options sounds like it’s going to work best? Pretty obvious. Option B can work differently for everyone, but essentially it can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths.
Take a minute to think about a stressful moment you’ve had at work recently. How did you react? How did that work out for you?
Imagine if you had taken a step back, poked your head up out of the stress tunnel, took a deep breath, and thought about the response you were having.
If you try to regulate your stress levels before you respond to a stressful situation, you can create a more mindful internal environment that will in turn help you lead both yourself and your team through these challenging times thoughtfully and effectively.
Jess brings a great strategy to the table. Think of that stress tunnel again, and imagine there’s a wave washing through it, with a high peak point and a low dip point. That high peak is the fight-mode stress response our instincts often send us into when we’re stressed. It can feel like you’re juggling plates and can’t let a single one drop or the whole show will shatter.
On the other side of the wave, we have the low dip, which is the freeze or fawn-mode stress response; that low, demotivated sensation that makes us feel like we’re in a rut of overwhelm.
In order to sit comfortably above that stress tunnel, we need to avoid both that high peak and the low dip. We need to stay regulated, somewhere in the middle (note that stress isn’t always a bad thing!). But how?
When we feel ourselves getting too far to one side of the wave, we can take a step outside ourselves and remember this simple solution:
- If you’re riding that high wave, take a big long deep breath.
- If you’re stuck in that low dip, get up and get moving.
These simple physical activities will trigger your body into pushing your stress hormones along through your system in a healthy way, which will ultimately help balance you out emotionally and steady your mind.
I know, easier said than done. The hard truth is that the most effective thing to do is often the thing we want to do the least (or haven’t even thought about doing). For instance, if you’re juggling plates, the last thing on your mind is stopping to take a breath.
The key is being intentional and mindful about how we respond to stress, instead of just acting on initial instinct.
On that note, consistency is more important than duration. It doesn’t matter whether you take one deep breath or 20, so long as you do whatever works to regulate your stress and soothe your mind, and more importantly, remember to do it every time you need to.
Ultimately, this is key to being a good leader. It makes you a better communicator in general, and it also allows you to teach your team members to do the same. Maybe you start each day with a 5-minute group meditation. Maybe you conclude every lengthy meeting with a group stretch.
As a leader, it’s your job to find what works for your team and help ease stress in your workplace by setting a new standard and leading by example.
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