5 Little Known Skills All Managers Can Use To Lower Stress at Work

Being a manager is tough. Here's five skills to help you maintain wellbeing and performance by lowering workplace stress.

As a manager, you are responsible for overseeing your team’s work and ensuring that they meet their deadlines. This responsibility can be both stressful and rewarding, depending on your work environment. Ultimately, the stress of managing others is up to you to deal with and to effectively manage your stress levels; there are several things you should keep in mind.

First, it is essential to understand that not all stress is bad

A certain amount of stress can help motivate you to do your best work. When the pressure becomes too much to handle, it can negatively impact your health and well-being. If you feel overwhelmed by stress regularly, it is crucial to take action.

Why you shouldn't ignore your own stress at work

One of the biggest mistakes many managers make is ignoring their stress levels at work. While they may focus on helping their team manage theirs, they often neglect to pay attention to themselves. However, this can hurt both your job performance and your overall health.

Why managers should be supporting their employees in the face of stressful situations

While it is crucial for managers to take charge of their own stress levels, they should also be supporting their employees in the face of stressful situations. This means being understanding and accommodating when possible. It may also mean offering resources or information to help employees cope with their stress better.

One of the best ways to prevent future cases of workplace stress is by taking proactive measures to reduce it. This may involve implementing new policies or procedures or providing additional resources and support for employees. Still, there are other ways to reduce stress and here’s how:

Understand that stress is a perfectly natural response to a difficult situation. With the proper steps, you can effectively manage stress

By making stress management a priority and acknowledging it as an inevitable part of your job as a manager, you can take charge of your stress levels and enjoy more success in both your professional and personal life.

Stress is an internal response that manifests when your brain perceives a threat. It triggers your fight-or-flight response, produced by the stress hormone Cortisol and affects you in 4 key ways:

  1. A churning stomach and wobbly legs as blood rushes from your stomach to your legs.
  2. Your digestive system switches off, making eating and digestion more difficult.
  3. Your immune system switches off, making you more prone to illness.
  4. The rational decision making part of your brain shuts down by up to 40%.
 

Why?

The oldest part of your brain is wired to deal with threats that existed when people lived in tribes and had to hunt for food. They would need to react to danger immediately by fighting it or running away.

When you are stressed, everything you don’t need is switched off as your brain reverts to habit – run away from danger or fight. Great if you were still hunting for food but not so great in the modern world. The rational decision making part of your brain evolved much later, which means that all that logic and sense you associate with modern thinking is overridden when stressed.

This basic brain biology explains why too much stress can make you ill and why you can’t think straight when stressed.

Learn to recognise the signs of your own workplace stress

For some, knowing and acknowledging they are stressed is a challenge. The more you learn to recognise the signs, the more chance you can reduce the amount of stress you experience. Here are five ways to start identifying stress:

Or you can cheat and take this short test here.

1. Know your body’s stress response – When stressed, our heartbeat gets faster, we begin to sweat, and our breathing gets quicker and shallower. Our digestion decreases, making it harder to focus and make decisions. Beware of your body tightening and your shoulders going up to your ear holes.

2. Listen to the words you use – “my blood is boiling”, “They are a real pain in the neck”. “They are doing my head in”, “I can’t take any more of this.” Or maybe it’s “I need to get this done; I can’t do this” Listen to your language.

3. Ask other people – Other people can often see what we can’t. As we get stressed, our perspective narrows, and it’s easy to pass on secondhand stress. Usually, it’s our tone that people pick up first. If you can’t spot it, then others may be able to.

4. You’re ill and can’t shake a simple cold – If you’re run down and can’t seem to shake off a simple cold, perhaps it is down to stress. That said, if the symptoms are long-lasting, remember to seek medical advice.

5. You can’t sleep properly, or your sleeping patterns change. 

Once you have spotted you are stressed, it’s time to take action before it begins to impact you and the people around you negatively.

Stress At Work I Workplace Stress

To help get back on track, try the following five skills:

1 – Take a few Tactical Breaths. You will immediately feel in more control in most circumstances

Have you ever noticed how you breathe when you’re stressed? It tends to be short, sharp breaths into the top of your lungs. Contrast that with when you are calm and relaxed. When we are relaxed, our breaths are long and deep and into the pit of our stomach.

Tactical breathing is a quick and effective way to switch off your stress response by helping you breathe deep and long. It allows you to remain calm relaxed and helps you to fall asleep.

Next time you feel stressed or struggling to sleep, try:

  1. Breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds
  2. Hold it for 7 seconds
  3. Breathe out slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds
  4. Repeat at least 3-4 times

 

The sort of deep breathing practised as part of the 4-7-8 breathing technique helps calm your body by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your body’s rest and relaxation response. This is why deep breathing is so effective at causing a relaxation response.

* Suppose you struggle to hold it for 7 seconds, don’t. Aim to achieve an exhale twice as long as the inhale and breath from your diaphragm.

4 ways to use it:

  1. After a stressful meeting or event, switch off your stress response by focusing on tactical breathing
  2. At the end of the working day, stop stress creeping into your personal life by trying a few tactical breaths

2. Let the small things go

Holding on to the things that cause you stress at work can turn an OK day into a bad one. Perhaps it is a loved one eating all your favourite biscuits, a messy kitchen, or a flippant response by a colleague.

Either way, it becomes an obsession. It lingers in your mind, and it gets replayed repeatedly. It probably also involves a few one-person conversations, which is likely to happen the last thing before you close your eyes.

If you find yourself ruminating, then ask yourself:

  1. Will it matter in a week
  2. A month?
  3. A year?
 

The answer is often no, and you can drop it, putting your energy into focusing on what is essential.

3 – F.A.I.L forward

Pause for a moment and think: 
 
  • Have you ever been so afraid of failure that you decided not to try something?
  • Are you hard on yourself or others for failing?
  • Is it acceptable in your team to make mistakes? How do you treat others around you if they fail or make mistakes?
 

Disliking failure is different from fearing it. Fearing failure can hold you back, and it’s a significant driver of stress. As adults, we tend to focus more on how lousy failure makes us feel and forget to focus on what we could learn from it to move forward.

Things happen and mistakes are made. The key is in how you respond next. In childhood, failure is just a First Attempt In Learning. Walking took many falls before you conquered it, let alone your ability to speak, learn and grow. In these extraordinary times, it’s more important than ever to give yourself permission to fail and see failure as an invaluable lesson to generate new ways of moving forward.

A great way to do this is when you make a mistake or fail, ask yourself one or all of these questions:

  1. Will it matter in a week? A month? A year?
  2. What 2 or 3 things can I learn from this experience?
 

or, if fear is stopping you from moving forward, ask yourself, what would I do if I knew it was impossible to fail?

4 – Focus on what you can control

Research into stress at work has shown that not being able to be yourself and not feeling in control are major contributors to workplace stress.

It’s understandable to feel a lack of control over everything happening and it’s simply not possible to influence and control everything. It can be easy to lose perspective and focus only on the worst-case scenario.

Stressing over things beyond your control wastes precious energy and time. How can you make sure you focus on what you can influence and control in your lives?

It’s a skill to put your energy into proactive and practical action, and here is how you do it.

Grab a pen and paper and create three columns:

  1. In the first column, list your concerns.
  2. In the 2nd column, write down what you can influence or control about one or all of the concerns in the first column.
  3. In the third column, write down one thing you will commit to doing and then do it!
 

This process enables you to separate your concerns from what you can influence or control, allowing you to focus on putting your energy into identifying ways to move forwards.

  • Example 1: a concern might be the worldwide spread of COVID-19. We can’t influence it globally, but we can control it individually through social distancing/self-isolation. A proactive stance might be researching online delivery outlets for foodstuff and making an inventory of food as and when orders need to be made.
 
  • Example 2: you might have concerns that your boss isn’t as supportive as possible. A way to proactively influence it might be to tell them how you are being affected and what you need.
 

Which circle are you currently spending the majority of time in? A reactive response focuses on concerns and may use language like “I can’t”, “if only”, and “I have to.” These phrases are shifting the responsibility to outside forces.

A proactive response identifies the things within your control. Sometimes the only thing within your control is how you respond. Other times, with some thought, you can identify other ideas.

5 – Focus on the good to remain positive

Biologically, our brains are wired for the negative. It’s evolutionary. 

Back in the days when survival meant spotting the ‘sabre-toothed tiger,’ this negativity bias kept us safe. Imagine you were out hunting, and you thought you just heard a tiger. Or was it just the wind? If you assumed it was a tiger and ran away, but it was just the wind, you’d be tired but still alive. Whereas, if you assumed it was just the wind when it was a tiger, that’s game over!

Unfortunately, this survival mechanism is not something you can switch off. This super sensitivity towards threats and negativity can impact all aspects of our life and switch on our stress response.

We have to work hard to beat our natural negativity bias. To beat your instinctive negativity bias, you need to grab the good.

Here’s how to do it:


Spend some time once a day reflecting on the positive things or experiences you are grateful for.

  1. Write down three things you are grateful for or have gone well today.
  2. Write down why you are grateful for it.
  3. Focus on HOW you can get more of this good stuff in your life.
 

Although this can be tough and feel unnatural at first, it’s worth persevering.

Three ways to use it:

  1. After a stressful meeting or event, it’s easy to focus only on the negative aspects. To switch off the stress response, focus on three good things or outcomes because they will be there.

  2. Bad day at work? Before you stop work, stop stress creeping into your personal life by thinking of three good things that have happened that day or three things you are grateful for. No matter how trivial, they will be there!

  3. Beat the negativity bias in others. When you ask others how their day went, how often do they respond negatively? Try asking them, “what went well for you today, what did you enjoy, how can you get more of that good thing?”

The importance of managing your own mental health for a healthy office environment

Stress is not considered a mental health problem, but it is connected to your mental health in many ways. Managing workplace stress is a crucial skill for all managers, as is being aware of your stress levels and the people around you. By taking proactive measures to reduce stress, you can create a healthier and more productive workplace for everyone involved. 

In the long run, your mental health will thank you.

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So, what next? Need more on workplace stress?

Whatever you choose to do, if you are stressed at work, don’t put off taking action. With the proper support and skills, things can change for the better. 

Look around our blogs for more advice and see how we take a skills-based approach to building resilience and wellbeing.  Resilience coaching is also available if you prefer to work with one of our coaches, and our stress less online training course has helped many people.

Talk to a doctor if:

  • things you are trying yourself are not helping
  • you would prefer to get a referral to other services from a GP. A doctor can help you determine whether you’re experiencing stress or an anxiety disorder. It’s essential to seek help for these symptoms since they can cause significant distress and affect your life and your relationships at home,  work and other important areas. A doctor can also refer you to a mental health expert and provide you with additional resources and tools.

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