Stress in the workplace may be unavoidable. Deadlines, sales quotas, budgets, fear over job security, and performance worries can all lead to anxiety at times even in great companies. As a leader, it’s crucial that you recognise the signs of stress and take action to prevent it from becoming a problem.
The Australian Medical Association reports that stresses revolving around a lack of control over the work environment place strain on the cardiovascular and immune systems. Failing to manage that stress makes you more vulnerable to infections, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and depression.
It’s time to take control of the workplace culture. Good leadership means managing stress to ensure your health and to create a healthy work environment for your teams.
Effective Stress Management Techniques for Leaders
Short-term stress is not necessarily a bad thing. The pressure you feel to solve a problem might help motivate you to work harder. However, when the stress is constant or starts to impact your professional or personal life, it’s time to act.
1. Pay Attention to Your Body’s Signals
Listen to your body’s signals. If you are experiencing these symptoms regularly, you may be experiencing prolonged stress which can be problematic.
Warning Signs of Executive Stress at Work
- Anxiety, irritability, depression
- Apathy or loss of interest in work
- Sleeping problems
- Consistent fatigue
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Muscle tension, headaches, migraines
- Stomach pains
- Social withdrawal
Other signs include a loss of intimacy with partners or turning to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.
If any of these symptoms are affecting your work or personal life, talk to a medical professional.
In the meantime, there are some stress management techniques that you can practice reducing your anxiety.
2. Make Lists
Leaders are used to being responsible for everything. The list of things that need to be accomplished and the pressure to perform can take a toll. It helps to get started.
Try listing out the most pressing issues with which you need to handle. Pick one and take the first step. Action helps you take control of the situation and feel like you are taking proactive steps to get things done. Some leadership training experts suggest you start with the most difficult tasks first. Others suggest starting with a few easy ones so that you can cross things off the list and feel like you’re making progress right away.
3. Practice Mindfulness
As a leader, you’re used to juggling a lot of important details. Your mind is constantly working. It may be reflecting on the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness is a conscious act of bringing your attention to the present.
Breathe and focus on the moment with judgment. When thoughts arise, it’s OK to make a note of them, but then let them go and return to the present.
This can be an effective way to fight stress but it does take practice.
4. Take Regular Breaks
Get up from behind your desk or computer and walk around. It helps to get your body in motion. Your destination isn’t as important as your movement.
This can be especially effective when you are struggling with a situation at work. When you are doing “think work,” the prefrontal cortex of your brain keeps you focused on your goals. This part of your brain is responsible for logical thinking, executive functioning, and willpower to control impulses. Research shows that regular breaks allow your prefrontal cortex to recharge. A lot of “aha moments” occur when you take that break.
5. Delegate Tasks
Too many executives suffer from superhero syndrome. They believe nobody else can do as good of a job as they can, so they fail to delegate. Instead, they feel like they always have to save the day!
While there are jobs that are so important you need to do them yourself, there are a lot of tasks you can delegate to others. If you can’t trust your team to handle these tasks, you’ve got the wrong team.
You need to know what tasks your team can handle and help nurture their growth. Can you use a task as a teaching moment for your team? This can also help reduce your stress by training others to take on more so that you can concentrate on the bigger projects.
6. Don’t Focus on Perfect
That leads us to this. Don’t focus on perfection, especially for jobs that are less than critical. It’s easy to spend so much time trying to make things perfect, that you fail to make enough good things.
Chinese Philosopher Confucius summed it up this way: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
7. Find a Trusted Advisor
It helps to have someone to talk to that won’t judge you. Just venting about your problems or concerns can help. Executives and leaders need a trusted advisor, mentor, partner, or friend that will listen and offer an outsider’s viewpoint.
Keeping your problems to yourself and internalizing your stress is not a good thing. Stress has a way of building up and multiplying. Pent-up tension can burst out at inappropriate times and cause other problems.
8. Ask for Help
When it all seems to be too much to handle, ask for help. For leaders, that can be a difficult thing to do. Admitting you don’t have all the answers and need help can feel like you’re not doing the job. Asking for help, however, is not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength.
Smart leaders know everyone needs help occasionally.
9. Get Leadership Training
Help can also come in the form of leadership training designed to create a strong workplace culture. This can include how to de-stress the workplace for your benefit and your employees.
Recognise the Warning Signs of Stress and Take Action
Good leadership recognizes the warning signs of stress in the workplace and the importance of implementing stress management techniques.