Stress is an inevitable part of life. Knowing the triggers and how to respond can lead to greater happiness. We asked Beverly D. Flaxington a career coach, author of Self-Talk for a Calmer You or Make Your Shift, and expert on human behaviour, how we can manage stress anywhere, anytime.
Q: Work and finances are a major source of stress for many people. How can we form a strategic plan to tackle these?
A: The first step in both areas of our lives is to set our desired outcome. When things are stressful we tend to focus on what we don’t want, what’s not going well and what we’d like to change. Instead set goals around what does matter. What do we want our work life to entail? What will make us happy? What criteria do we have for a happy work life? What are our short and long term financial goals. It’s important to first paint a clear picture of what you desire, what success looks like to you and be clear about where you are headed.
Q: What are 3 simple steps anyone can do anywhere and at any time to manage their stress?
A: BREATHE – yes, simply learn the art of deep breathing. Imagine a blue balloon in your stomach and it is deflated. Breathe in through your nose to fill the balloon, then exhale through your mouth to reduce it. Do this over and over again and focus your attention on your breath. The mind cannot focus on two things at once so this moves your attention from your stress to your breath.
Engage the “STOP!” technique. When negative, stressful thoughts start to carry you away imaging a big red STOP! sign in your mind. If you can speak out loud, say “STOP!” to these thoughts. Then replace them with something positive – a song you like, a poem, scripture verse etc. Redirect your mind.
Make a list of your obstacles and cross out everything you can’t control. Focus on one or two things you can control and create a plan to deal with those things. Take small steps toward making progress.
Q: When a stressful situation occurs what is the single most important piece of self-talk?
A: “Stressful things happen all of the time, that’s life. It’s all about how I deal with the situation. I am calm, confident and in control and I can take one step to deal with this now.” Then, take that one step to move forward in confidence!
Q: What can managers and upper-level executives do to create a positive workplace that reduces stress?
A: Leaders have so much power over the stress levels of their employees. There are a number of important things but let’s look at six big ones:
- Be clear about expectations for your team. Don’t just file away a job description but rather lay out definitions for success for each person, 6 months, 1 year and into the future. How can they add value to the company, specifically.
- Show employees how their role interacts with others in the team. Be clear about how they can engage, where they are dependent on one another and how their role fits into the overall company. Again, not just an org chart but focus on the specifics of each employee’s role.
- Create a compensation structure that is tied to business goals and objectives. If you can do some sort of profit sharing, or bonus based on results, that is best but overall make sure each employee is driven (from a compensation perspective) toward what the business cares about.
- Provide feedback. Don’t wait until the annual performance review. Human beings crave to know what they are doing well and how they can improve. Be sure to balance feedback with positive reinforcement along with “here is what I need you to do differently”. And be specific – stay away from generalities like “Please be more positive.”
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Employees want to know what’s going on, how the company is doing, what might happen that will affect them. Senior leaders can’t tell all, but be sure you communicate as frequently and in as many ways as you can.
- Allow employees to share obstacles. The people closest to the work know what could make things better — allow them to present problems and teach them how to work through solutions.
Q: What 5 strategies can employees use to be happier at work?
- Recognize that no matter what role you are in, you have more control than you think. Focus on those things you can control and make progress on them, don’t waste time worrying about things you can’t control.
- Be clear about your desires and put your focus on moving toward something positive, and away from things that upset you. When you get up in the morning, resolve to find the things you enjoy about your work, or make a list of the positive attributes. Set your mind to things you want, not what you don’t want.
- Be useful. Maybe your workplace doesn’t allow you to do all you are capable of (or asks too much of you so that you don’t feel successful!) so find ways you can add value. Can you mentor someone? Volunteer to get involved to learn something new? Participate in a project? If the workplace doesn’t allow you to do these things, consider outside activities such as charities, sports or networking in order to feel more useful and fulfilled.
- You spend a lot of your life at work, but it is just a job. It isn’t all of who you are so keep reminders about other parts of your life close. Can you put a screen saver of your favorite vacation spot? Can you carry a cute picture of your child on your phone screen? Can you write a few “I’m thankful for” bullet points and keep them on your desk, or in your purse or wallet to pull out when things get tough.
- Take care of yourself – eat well, sleep well and get exercise. It sounds simple but the better you feel physically, the more you will be able to take care of yourself mentally when the going gets tough!
Want more healthy living? An abbreviated form of this interview first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.