In an accompanying blog I discussed the: Ten Reasons Why Employees Don’t Manage Their stress. In this blog I'm going to provide ten ways you can help them manage stress now and in the future:
Create a culture that promotes stress management.
Since we are on call 24/7 work must be more like home since home is already more like work. This could be achieved by promoting activities like napping at work, taking meditation breaks, walking during lunch, engaging in chair yoga during breaks, having more social time at work, etc.
Managers must lead by example.
It’s a well-known fact that when the manager of a department works late every night, works through lunch and puts his or her own needs last, everyone in that department is going to do the same. Managers need to model balanced behavior that leads to balanced workers.
Manage stress while it's happening.
The two best techniques for managing your stress while it’s happening are cognitive restructuring and mindfulness. Cognitive restructuring teaches you how to recognize your irrational thinking (AKA, negative self-talk which causes you boatloads of stress) and teaches you how to change it, on the fly, so you stop stress before it starts. Mindfulness teaches you how to find refuge in the present moment and thus liberate you from lots of anxiety (future-oriented thinking) and lots of anger (holding onto events that happened in the past). This also allows you to keep a lot of stress at bay.
Train employees to recognize stress-related illness so they can discuss it intelligently with their doctor.
Doctors receive little or no training in medical school on how to treat stress-related illness and are quick to prescribe pharmaceutical solutions that usually involve side-effects and don’t address the source of the problem. This allows their patients to effectively ignore their stress symptoms which are now masked by their prescription. Your employees need to know this and know what alternatives are available to them to prevent stress-related health problems in the future.
Make the message of stress management simpler.
What if we start with the problem and work backwards to the solution, which in this case would be various forms of stress management. So, if we start with everyday health problems like migraine headaches, insomnia, chronic pain and many gastro-intestinal issues for example, and work backwards to a stress management solution from there like biofeedback, meditation, yoga and mindfulness (match these in the same order with the health issues listed above), people would be more motivated to participate in programs that solve their specific problems that don’t involve side effects.
Stress science could also include the new brain science.
Stress management has always been about maintaining an internal locus of control (AKA feeling like you are in the driver's seat of your own life). We now know that our locus of control may actually reside in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the brain. Knowing how to access and nurture the PFC ultimately leads to greater control over our emotions, our fears and our stress.
Make stress management proactive.
We need to elevate stress management practices like exercise, yoga, and meditation to the same status as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. It doesn't take any will power to brush your teeth or take a shower every morning, you just do it. In the future, the same will be true of stress management. When you talk to any group ask the people in your audience if they do any of the above activities on at least a 3-day a week basis. Then ask if they would ever go back to NOT doing them. The answers you get will serve as powerful testimonials to kind of results one gets by making these activities a part of one’s daily and/or weekly routine.
Acknowledge stress sensitivity.
Some people are wired differently. The best way to deal with a wiring problem is by rewiring. You rewire your brain through affirmations, skill-building and habit formation. In addition, meditation practice can facilitate the whole process and literally change the structure of your brain.
Embrace the European model.
In Europe the employer takes responsibility for the stress levels that its employees experience at work and makes an effort to both lower these levels AND teach the employee better methods for coping with the stress that can't be lowered by changing certain aspects of the job itself. In the UK mindfulness training at work is mandated by law.
Teach employees about underlying sources of stress in their life like time pressure, relationship problems, disorganization and financial stress.
In order to address time pressure, employees need to build in extra time for things to go wrong or that take longer than they think. For relationship problems they can spend time every day connecting with the most important people (friends and family members, coworkers) in their lives. In order to address disorganization, they need to be encouraged to set aside time every day for planning and getting organized. (Maybe the first 5-10 minutes after arriving at work.) In order to address financial stress, bring in financial counselors who can teach people about the importance of lowering credit card debt and saving a small amount each month. Addressing these MAJOR underlying causes of stress will bring about a growing sense of inner peace that is quite simply more valuable than gold.