Consider two scenarios:
At first, Sandra was glad about her long-awaited promotion to sales director. However, she soon felt the reality of her new, more challenging responsibilities. She faced unresolved employee conflicts, low sales numbers, and the threat of cuts to her team. As she sat at her desk, Sandra felt dizzy, overwhelmed, and unable to effectively communicate with employees looking to her for leadership.
Sean is the CEO of a multimillion-dollar corporation in the midst of a merger. At a board meeting, Sean found himself in a heated conflict with some of the board members. Lack of mutual trust and the stress of charting the future of the company got in the way of Sean working well with the board. Sean realized his frazzled mind impacted his relationships with colleagues and undermined his influence in the company.
Positive Stimulator or Negative Stress?
Situations that cause us to “reach” for something a bit beyond our current ability can help stimulate us toward taking action. Such “arousal” is tied to higher levels of adrenaline and taps into our survival instinct to give us the focus and energy needed to address the challenge.
That type of arousal is useful in the short term, but can be harmful when it persists and becomes chronic stress. Chronic stress can lead to physical and mental illness. At work, it can impair our ability to make decisions, increase conflicts among coworkers, limit our abilities to think clearly, and reduce our ability to control our emotions.
The World Health Organization has studied the connection between workplace stress and a healthy work-life balance. An Integra Survey conducted by the American Institute of Stress found that 25 percent of respondents experienced stress-induced tears and 62 percent of respondents regularly experience neck pain related to stress.
Workplace stress is pervasive and negatively impacts workers’ emotional and physical well-being. How can you take the lead to reduce the stress in your organization?
Mindfulness as a Tool to Manage StressAn overload of information and not enough time to process that information is a common source of stress in work situations. Cluttered minds can’t solve problems well, can’t make good decisions, or think creatively.
One tool for managing the stress of mental overload is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware of the moment and monitoring what is going on within your mind. It is different from meditation. Meditation refers to a wide range of ways to train attention and mindfulness is just one of those ways. To learn more about the difference between mindfulness and meditation, read Daniel Goleman’s article on what mindfulness is and isn’t.
Increasingly companies are using mindfulness programs to help their employees manage anxiety and difficult emotions, improve their relations with others, and increase work performance.
Breaking the Cycle of Stress
Mindfulness can gives our minds a break from the daily overload. Here are five simple steps you can take to break the stress cycle.
Notice your reaction to a specific “trigger” situation. What caused that rush of adrenaline or stress? What were the conditions that led to that moment? Recognizing the triggers of stress can help you prepare to deal with them more effectively the next time they arise.
First become aware, then manage. Pay attention to how you feel physically and emotionally when you are in a stressful situation. The first step to managing your self is to be aware of yourself and your reactions.
Stay in the moment. Pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment rather than rehashing stressful situations from the past. If the moment presents a problem, focus on finding creative solutions to that problem.
Learn to meditate. Meditation helps calm the mind and increases the ability to focus. It also helps you be able to move between mental tasks more deliberately and with greater ease.
- Breathe. Taking a few deep breaths during a stressful situation will bring oxygen to your brain and clarify your thinking. Try this: Breathe in and count one…then breathe out and count one. Breathe in and count two…then breathe out and count two. Breathe in and count three…then breathe out. Repeat. If you can, place your hands on your abdomen or chest to feel the rise and settling of each breath.
Take the First StepPracticing these simple tools can be the first step to larger more pronounced change. With minds clear of stress, leaders and employees find that relationships improve, meetings run more efficiently, teams act more collaboratively, and decisions can be made with more clarity. Embracing the use of mindfulness tools helps the company as a whole develop a healthier and more productive environment.