We tend to think of stress as the enemy — a silent force that causes our heart to race, sweat to pour, and lets panic creep in whenever we start to feel pressure. Research complied by Montreal-based Officevibe shows that 77 percent of employees regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 73 percent regularly experience emotional symptoms from stress. This level of employees with tension costs employers a staggering $300 billion annually in stress-related health care and missed work.
Feeling a bit stressed by those numbers? Don’t be. While stress is inevitable, there are many ways you can help yourself and your team combat stress to maintain a happy and healthy workplace. Here are three places to start.
1) Know your Triggers
It’s much easier to combat stress when you know what causes it. Categorizing the main stressors in your life can help you figure out which paths to take to reduce these stressors, and can provide insight into what might trigger stress in the future. Take some time at the next staff meeting to have employees sort their stressors into categories including emotional, family, environmental, and workplace stresses. These are lists that employees can keep to themselves (sharing them might add to their stress), but should be given free access to approach you if they identify a stressor you might be able to ease.
2) Create the Environment
There are any number of little things employers can do to keep workplace stress at bay, but flexibility, good food, and humor in the office can go a long way.
Ever felt that panic when you’re stuck in traffic and you know it’s going to make you late for work? Giving employees flex time as to when they arrive or leave makes it easier for when life gets in the way of schedules.
Eating right can make a huge difference in how you feel and how our bodies react to stress. Consider providing your employees with free, healthy snack options. At our office, we set out a bowl of granola bars, fruit, and dark chocolate for anyone needing an energy boost.
And, of course, a good laugh and a smile can work wonders for anyone having a stressful day. Don’t be shy about sharing funny videos with your team, or encouraging a few jokes before a staff meeting. Your job as the leader is to keep the humor appropriate, and to handle missteps as they come up. (And, yes, this may be stressful.)
3) Make Stress your Friend
At first, this seems like contradictory advice. But as it turns out, how you think about stress matters. In a recent TED talk, Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, spoke about how she used to see stress as a major health problem. But in 2012, the results of a long-term study on stress and its effects found that only adults who felt stress was bad for them were more likely to die from stress. This means that it’s not the stress itself that is bad for you, it’s the perception that stress is negative that does the most damage.
At the core of stress is a bodily response to external triggers. Sometimes called the “fight or flight” response, a stress reaction is our body’s way of getting us ready to take on something big. Often we think of this response as a hindrance, but when we’re taught to perceive this reaction as positive, it changes our biological reaction to stress and makes it much healthier. In a study at Harvard University, participants who were taught to view their pounding hearts and increased breathing rates as a good thing radically decreased the cardiovascular strain on the body normally associated with stress. Reframing your, “I am so overwhelmed,” to “This is my body helping me rise to this challenge,” can help you embrace stress and keep the negative effects away. As McGonigal describes, “When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.”
Some stress can be a good thing as it motivates people to reach deadlines and gets people physically prepared for a big presentation or meeting. But minimizing the damage stress can do is crucial if you want to provide a safe and healthy environment. By identifying triggers, taking steps to minimize stress at work, and rethinking how you and your team view stress, you’ll be well on your way to a calmer, more balanced workplace.
Megan Torrance is the president and CEO of TorranceLearning, an elearning design and development firm in Chelsea.