As we come to the end of April – Stress Awareness Month in the UK – it’s time for businesses to consider how stress can be minimised for the benefit of all.
We’ve all experienced stress and witnessed its effects on ourselves and our colleagues. It can be a powerful short-term motivator. However, when endured consistently, over a long period of time its impacts are overwhelmingly negative for both the individual and the business more widely.
The personal and business consequences of ignoring stress
Stress is exhausting, both mentally and physically. It’s distracting, demoralising, and carrying it around causes physical exhaustion. This not only reduces happiness, productivity and the quality of work staff produce, but increases the likelihood of them having to take time off.
In fact, stress currently accounts for more than a third of all work related ill health. This causes a vicious circle in which absences intensify pressure on those still at work, increasing their likelihood of having to take time off.
Furthermore, all those that do take time out of work to recover are at risk of becoming more stressed due to concerns over how their absence will impact their career. This could result in a premature return to work or further absence.
This is a significant issue as stress does not discriminate, it could affect you, your management team, or any other member of staff. A business that lacks a head cannot operate, but neither can a business with a severely diminished workforce. As such, it is something that companies cannot afford to ignore if they want to grow.
How to identify stress before breaking point
Identifying stress that’s bubbling under the surface can be challenging – how many times have you only become aware you were tensing your shoulders after being told to relax them?
As a result, we tend to only deal with stress, and related mental health challenges such as anxiety, once we have reached breaking point and have no choice but to act. Unsurprisingly this is less effective and more challenging than if we’d prevented the break occurring.
Take knocking a sugar jar off a kitchen surface as an example. It’ll take far longer to clear up the sugar and piece the broken shards of glass back together than it would to move the jar away from the edge before it falls. It’s just the same with stress.
Taking stock of the stress you’re carrying so you can prevent it developing, and encouraging your employees to do the same, is far better than trying to calm down when you are experience a strong stress reaction, such as a panic attack.
Activities, such as yoga, that are designed to increase awareness of your own body are a great way that this can be achieved – they empower you to identify stress, acknowledge it and then let it go.
Developing personalised coping mechanisms
Everyone experiences stress differently. As such, it’s unsurprising that the coping mechanisms that work for one person may not work for another. While yoga is effective for many people, business leaders should encourage their staff to explore and master different mechanisms, so that they have them to hand when faced with a stressful situation.
These mechanisms may take the form of breathing practices, exercises to identify the root cause of anxiety, reminders of your achievements, or something completely different. The only way you’ll work out what’s suitable for you is giving different methods a go.
The importance of realistic expectations
“You’re your own worst enemy” isn’t an expression for nothing. When it comes to expectations it’s typically those we set for ourselves, rather than those made by managers, that cause the most stress, as a desire to succeed leads us to set unattainable goals.
It’s crucial to cultivate an environment where you and your staff set realistic expectations for yourself and for others to avoid demoralisation, stress and a resultant decline in performance. Setting time aside to recognise your achievements and those of others goes hand in hand with this.
Knowing when to seek professional help
Identifying when you’re experiencing stress, developing coping mechanisms and setting realistic expectations will all go a long way in helping you to minimise the impacts of stressful situations.
However, when stress develops into a long-term mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression, it’s crucial that you seek professional help. The key to identifying these is noting the extent to which your condition is debilitating. Monitor the impacts of stress on your physical health, relationships, ability to work and go about your life as normal. If these are affected it’s time to consult a physician.
Knowing when you need to seek professional help and taking measures to minimise stress for yourself and your employees will create a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. People are the key to your businesses’ success so it’s vital you invest in theirs and your own wellbeing now.
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