These last few months have shown us how quickly our world can change. The ability to be adaptable and flexible has taken on a new perspective. Information, plans, teams, and customers have shifted at a dizzying pace, accompanied by a higher level of fear and anxiety. Managing work stress is becoming a big priority for many.
Most of us our working from home now, home schooling our younger children, monitoring online schooling for our older children, and living constantly with our immediate family members; a car ride now seems like an adventure. Zoom meetings are used by every person in my household. It’s a workplace meeting location and a place to hang out with friends and have a drink for me and my husband. My 7-year old twins meet their classmates for social hours, attend ballet classes, and practice their theater rehearsals for Aladdin all through Zoom. The reality is we’re not getting out much now and digital devices have become a necessity for maintaining relationships and connection.
The reality of managing work stress and pressure in our professions and at home has increased. Many of us are experiencing real-world amygdala hijack moments daily. Now, most states are starting to make plans to open up again. What does that look like in our “new normal” work environment and with our family and friends? I will not be running out quickly to be in group settings, and we do wear masks in our family outside of the home. I am observing that people have different views on this topic, if you should wear a mask or gloves or both. It is causing extra stress and judgement when interacting with others at stores and restaurants.
Real-world amygdala hijack moment
The COVID-19 pandemic has suppressed our positive, innovative mentality as humans, sending us into a fight or flight response daily while trying to restore and manage our negative self-talk back to the present moment thinking. I keep telling myself, “What can I appreciate about this moment? What can I learn and grow? How can I help someone else? How is that person feeling right now? Are they upset with me or just upset in general with everything? Am I in their way?” It’s challenging to stop fearing what is next and become better at finding the “silver lining” in whatever news is delivered to us that day. Stopping the fear of today and truly believing that things will be better tomorrow is an art and a skill.
Our “new normal”
I work with an inspiring speaker, John Register, who has used this term, “new normal,” years before COVID-19. He is an Army veteran, all-around athlete who suffered a tragic accident and had to have his leg amputated from the knee down. He went on to be a Paralympic Silver medalist, and he is an inspirational speaker and coach and is the founder of a very successful communication company. John had to accept his “new normal,” and he continues to do it every day looking for opportunities to be better and do his best. I often think of John when I find myself feeling down about what has happened. This global pandemic and shutdown is forcing everyone to look differently at our “new normal” and what we could do better daily as an organization and leaders to improve communication, be more vulnerable, and know that we don’t have all the answers. And most importantly looking at ways to be agile and flexible on our strategic plans, while still being consistent with our core values.
What we are seeing, is that some organizations and leaders are doing this better than others. I’m navigating this new world with several of my clients and wanted to share a few thoughts on how to reduce pressure and stress and incorporate more healthy rituals in our daily routines to help us manage so much change.
5 tips for managing work stress
1. Start a breathing and meditation ritual
We know the power of breathing has to help decrease stress and anxiety and calm an amygdala hijack. In the moment when we are feeling anxiety and stress, research shows that the oxygen and blood flow are moving away from our thinking brain to our larger muscles and cortisol (stress hormone) is being released in our body. By taking three to five deep deliberate breathes, we are able to start bringing oxygen back to our thinking brain and soothe our amygdala.
The effectiveness of mindfulness mediation programs can be found in the findings published in “JAMA Internal Medicine” – it suggests that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University filtered through almost 19,000 meditation studies, and they found 47 trials that validated the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation programs to diminish anxiety and stress. It has been shown to build immunity too! It’s important to make the time right now to practice and if you are a leader, bring a breathing or mindfulness practice to your team or encourage them to use a mindfulness app. Are you new to mindfulness and meditation, and curious to learn a little more or try practices on your own or with your team?
Here are some of my top recommendations to get started:
Take time to share your story with a friend, co-worker, or family member on how you’re managing your professional and personal life. Don’t be afraid to admit your challenges and fears. Most people are going through the same thing and don’t know how to discuss it with others. How do you empower a team who now is working remotely? How do you motivate them as a leader and stay connected?
I’m encouraging leaders to have weekly team video conferencing calls and allow a few minutes for everyone to just say hello and ask someone to share a highlight from their week. It could be a high or a low – just be open. It’s important to be approachable and vulnerable with others when you’re managing work stress during uncertain times.
In my coaching conversations, most of my clients are struggling balancing their personal and professional lives. It is unchartered territory and many of us have blended families with children and teenagers who all bring their own set of problems to a household dynamic. Others have elderly parents or a family member pregnant or a compromised immune system. We need to practice listening more.
For team building, people are really creative with Zoom, Webex, or Bluejean video conferencing tools. Employees are hosting bi-weekly lunches or team building games (like two truths and a lie) via video conferencing tools. I had one client share with me that he is the leader of a team and the only one going into the office. He started taking photos of items on colleague’ desks and sent them to his team; employees would have to guess whose desk it is. Keep it fun when going through stressful moment – people need some levity.
3. Spread words of appreciation
So many of us are thankful to the front-line workers in the healthcare, delivery services, and grocery industries (and please let them know). My kids did a school project where they sent thank you cards to hospital workers. These front-line workers are providing important services and support at their own risk. Smiling and sharing verbal affirmations and making eye contact have absolutely no risk of contagion. Do it generously.
During challenging times, it’s important to spread appreciation. Thankfully, we have recognition platforms available that allow employees to spread words of appreciation to another from anywhere. Make sure to be intentional when sending a recognition to someone and check to see if you’ve used all your recognition points or if you’ve thanked anyone this week. Make it your priority to spread appreciation on a daily basis – people need it now more than ever.
Outside of work, take the time to connect with friends, family members, or someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Send a text or note to check in with others in your life. Connect in some way – be creative and practice gratitude across the board, both in life and at work.
4. Be flexible and adaptable
This will pass and who knows what tomorrow will bring, but we can’t be rigid in our thinking, judgement, or rightness. We have to let go of the need to be right in order to have a healthy relationship. We have to let go of our annual strategic plans and reorganize to manage what is in front of us today. Opportunities and innovations are right in front of us if we’re open to finding them.
As team members, be flexible with your leadership team. They’re making big decisions on the fly, and most are doing their best; at times they might make a wrong call. Let yourself as a leader admit when you’ve made a poor decision and course correct. Part of managing work stress is to know when to admit mistakes, learn from them, and accept that it’s okay to not always be right.
And it goes without saying, we have to be adaptable to the work from home environment with many distractions and a real lack of quiet space.
5. Maintain your health with exercise and hand washing
Right now, it’s critical to focus on your health and practice hand washing. Below are some of my top tips on how to maintain your health during stressful times.
When you’re washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, try practicing loving kindness mediation. Say to yourself, “May I be happy. May I be free from pain. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I live with ease.”
Get plenty of rest. Sleep is foundational to your health and well-being.
Feel the sunshine and go outside. Breathe fresh air, go for a hike, or try a mindful walk. Focus on the sensations of the bottoms of your feet for 30 seconds. Do you feel the ground beneath your feet evenly? Practice listening. Are there sounds you have not heard before or different temperatures or sensations?
Keep moving. YouTube has an amazing number of guided exercise classes. Try a yoga class online and aim to work out at least three times a week.
Choose nutritious foods and stay hydrated. Try cooking a new healthy dish for you and your family.
One final word is just do your best when it comes to managing work stress. No one has experienced anything like this before COVID-19. My book title is a quote by Mary Anne Radmacher, “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” I’m doing my best every day and some days are better than others. I’m so appreciative to my family, friends, business partners, and clients that continue to love and support me.